Nashoba Launches the New Year …Jan. 13, 2016

By Ann Needle
The Nashoba School Committee launched a new calendar year on January 6 hearing mostly good news on the district’s financial health. This was followed by a call for Stow residents to help with safety plans for the district, along with a glimpse of what could be in the Technology budget next year.

The annual audit of Nashoba’s finances by accounting firm Powers & Sullivan shows “a clean report,” with the district in excellent financial shape as of June 30, 2015, according to the firm’s Richard Sullivan. However, Sullivan cautioned that the Excess & Deficiency (“free cash”) account was at a lower level than it should be for the size of the budget.

Free cash currently is less than 4% of the budget, compared with the 5%-of-budget-size legal limit for Massachusetts school districts. And, Sullivan added, the Dept. of Revenue recommends using free cash only for one-time expenditures, rather than to simply defray the cost of ongoing budget line items, which happened this school year.

Last spring, at the urging of Nashoba’s towns, the district spent more than planned out of free cash to help trim assessments. Town representatives argued that the level of free cash, at $2.2 million, was higher than the district customarily maintained, and could be better used to help trim assessments to the towns.

Though Sullivan reported that most school districts he has audited have been in the 4% range for free cash, SC Chair Lorraine Romasco maintained that the districts Nashoba compares itself to carry significantly less than 4%.

In another audit item, Sullivan noted that accounting guidelines call for Nashoba’s OPEB (other post-employment benefits) liability to be listed on balance sheets as of 2018. The latest numbers show the district’s OPEB liability at $45.4 million as of year-end 2013, he said. Though not yet legally required, the federal accounting guidelines call for districts and municipalities to put away funds for future retiree benefits, rather than continue with the current pay-as-you-go approach. As with many districts, Nashoba still is working out how to begin saving toward that liability.

A Community Approach to School Safety
Reports of violence in the nation’s schools have many parents concerned about what Nashoba is doing to protect its students. The answer is the Nashoba Emergency Response Task Force, and the district’s Coordinator of Health and Wellness Donna Linstrom offered a glimpse into this group’s work.

Formed last winter as a subcommittee of the district’s School Health Advisory Council, the Task Force is modeled after the state’s School Safety and Security Task Force. Linstrom explained that the district’s Task Force also is organized around this state model of focusing on “prevent-prepare-respond-recover.”

To these ends, safety officials across the district are on the Task Force, along with parents, students, and Nashoba administrators, said Linstrom. She noted that the meetings have covered analysis of lock-down procedures and fire safety drills from the towns’ police and fire officials, along with a look by Director of Facilities Bill Cleary at how communications and other infrastructure are supporting Nashoba’s safety goals.
Linstrom said the Task Force already has parent representatives from Bolton and Lancaster, but needs some from Stow. Any parent interested in volunteering should contact Linstrom at (The Task Force normally meets the first Monday of each month.)

As the agenda turned to Sub Committee reports, Bolton Rep. and the Technology Sub Committee’s Neal Darcy spurred a lengthy discussion of technology needs after presenting the Sub Committee’s list of what it would like to see budgeted for 2016/17. These items included re-instating the two Technology teaching positions eliminated from the district six years ago, and more staff professional development time for Technology. Curtis Bates also mentioned that the district should look into the state’s technology learning goals in place for each grade level.

Superintendent Search Begins
Lancaster Rep. Kathy Codianne announced that the search process for a permanent superintendent will formally begin at the January 13 SC meeting, when search partner MA Association of School Committees will conduct a workshop on putting together the process.

The SC unanimously voted to move the dates of some upcoming meetings from Wednesday to Thursday, given Interim Superintendent Dr. Curtis Bates (attending his first SC meeting Jan. 6) will be teaching a class through mid-March. The regularly scheduled Wednesday meetings for upcoming weeks will instead take place on Thursday, Jan. 28; Feb. 11 and 25; and March 10.

In other district news, NRHS seniors and Stow residents Jessie Duggan and Hannah Stevenson were Nashoba’s designated Worcester County Superintendent’s Association Scholars. Traditionally, the NRHS senior class’s top students have been the WCSA Scholars.

And, NRHS Social Studies Teacher Tim Caster recently received the Kidger Award, given annually to one college or university faculty member and one pre-college history teacher for excellence in teaching, research and writing, and service to the profession. The award honors Horace Kidger, a teacher in the Newton Schools and Harvard.