Nashoba Postpones Budget Vote

By Ann Needle

The Nashoba School Committee put off a vote on the district’s proposed 2013/14 budget last night, agreeing that it needs to look more closely at what could be trimmed, especially given that the district towns’ assessments have become questionable. The Committee also looked at the potential calendar for next school year, along with changes to how Superintendent Michael Wood’s performance is evaluated.

For the first time in recent memory, the Committee was called upon to take a vote on a proposed budget before March. The approximately $49.1 million plan was first presented at the Committee’s January 29 meeting, followed by a public Budget Workshop on February 2. The potential package calls for about a 3.9% hike over this year’s spending.

However, several citizens and Committee members protested the call for an earlier vote. In a letter to the Committee, Stow’s Kevin Keenan maintained that Nashoba did not advertise the possible vote sufficiently, and that residents and town officials have not had enough time to study the package.
“But we discussed it for 4-1/2 hours, with tons of questions,” objected Committee Chair Nancy Federpsiel of Bolton, referring to the Budget Workshop. She reminded the Committee that some parents in Stow asked members to vote on the budget as soon as possible, so they would know whether Stow would host a pre-school at Center come next school year.

Meanwhile, in calculating the towns’ bill for the budget, Assistant Superintendent George King explained that the district accidentally under-counted the number of students in Bolton by about 70. In the current proposal, Stow’s assessment would rise about 5.1%, Bolton’s by 2.6%, and Lancaster’s by 4.6%.Though the re-calculated assessments for each town are not ready yet, King noted the new assessment will be higher for Bolton, while Stow and Lancaster will likely see smaller percentage hikes for 2013/14 than originally calculated.

Bolton Rep. Reta Rupich said Bolton officials are concerned that, given the town already is anticipating spending about 75% of its free cash on its upcoming fiscal year budget, a bigger increase in the school assessment would be damaging.

Along with Bolton’s worries, there was an extensive discussion of items that could be trimmed without too much impact, including some of the proposed capital projects and eight possible additions to the staff across the district. The Committee agreed with Stow Rep. Lynn Colletti’s suggestion that Wood should come back to the February 26 meeting with recommendations for trimming the budget in increments, demonstrating what would need to be cut to achieve each level of suggested savings.

Early Back to School?
In the wake of a blockbuster snowstorm, the proposed 2013/14 school year calendar coincidentally calls for an earlier start to the school year, offering some insurance against school stretching late into June. Unveiled at yesterday’s Committee, the calendar pegs the first day of school at August 28 — the Wednesday before Labor Day — with school ending June 13 (without snow days). This school year began on September 4 (the day after Labor Day), and, with four snow days spent, currently will let out on June 24.

Before this school year, Nashoba had been starting school before Labor Day. However, to leave room to assure the new Center School was ready, the district began school after the holiday this year.

Michael Wood estimated that about 60% of respondents to a recent parent survey said they would prefer a post-Labor Day start, but, “To be honest, the survey happened and was completed and closed after the Calendar Committee finished its work,” he said.

The Committee agreed to postpone a vote on the proposed schedule  until it can review the parent survey results and get a better idea of how the district would react to a pre-Labor Day school start. Wood also agreed to have a representative from the Calendar Committee (consisting of volunteer staff and parents) at the February 26 School Committee meeting.

Evaluation Process May Change
Changes also may be coming to the job evaluation process for Michael Wood. In presenting the Committee with the revised process, Nancy Federspiel explained that the suggested revisions are based on new state recommendations regarding administrative and teacher evaluations.

Wood pointed out that the main change will be that Committee members actually will need to write the evaluation in public, rather than simply presenting its evaluation at a public meeting. (However, this applies only to superintendents, not to teachers and administrators.) The Committee will review the proposal before voting on the changes.

In other business, the Committee voted unanimously to accept a $1,250 grant from the US Tennis Assn. for painting “Under 10” lines on the new tennis courts, which will allow the district to rent the facility to youth groups. The Committee also voted unanimously to accept a donation of wood (worth about $1,200) from a Bolton resident to the high school’s Engineering the Future class.

Finally, six NRHS students were declared National Merit Finalists, all graduates of Stow schools. The award is based on scores from the 2012 PSAT. The students are Madeline Jenkins, Connie Jiang, Samuel Kirschbaum, Joel Sharin, Steve Tang, and Soren Vatasoiu. Each of these seniors now is eligible for a National Merit scholarship.