SCHOOLS: Town Meeting Schools Overview
Groton-Dunstable School Committee Chairman Alison Manugian explained to voters that the school district's 2012 budget was the basis for the 2013 budget, but that there was "unknown spending beyond what was in the budget," adding that when the committee became aware of this, the issues had already carried forward to a new budget.
She cited special education costs and transportation and salaries as contributing to the budget issues. She said that through FY2014, the committee made cuts and reached out to the state for emergency funds and received $70,000. "We also reached out to the teachers, Lawrence Academy and Groton School for help but we couldn't get these discussions off the ground."
She advised voters, "We have depleted a dramatic amount of our savings. With 2013 and 2014 behind us, we don't need more money." She stressed that there was an accounting audit that was completed and assured voters that there was no money missing and no criminal issues. "There was no one individual responsible for the mistakes. The Superintendent and Business Manager are not with us [anymore]. We didn't catch this but no one person is to blame."
Learning from this, Manugian said that the School Committee will now receive a variance report monthly, and a quarterly update will be posted on the districts website.
Additionally, Manugian advised that a tri-board has been created made up of the School Committee, Selectmen and Finance Committees from Groton and Dunstable, as a way of ensuring better communication in the district. She added that the District would continue to show projections for three years out. "We are committed to talk with both towns about the total cost of education."
She noted that the Regional School District is completely autonomous from either Groton or Dunstable.
Manugian pointed out that the special education costs along with federal and state mandates that are unfunded are going up as well as health care costs and employee salaries. She told voters, "The state says that Groton and Dunstable are affluent towns and as a result we won't see increases in Chapter 70 [monies]." The district's Excess & Deficiency Fund (free cash) is now depleted. We will close out 2014 at $100,000 that is "woefully inadequate."
Acting Superintendent Dr. Anthony Bent told voters that when the budget shortfall issues became clear, that's when the Board looked at cuts, they did not want to touch teachers, and instead looked at administrative positions, long term subs, health assistants and one high school custodian. There have been some changes in teachers, but Bent said it was the result of attrition and enrollment changes. "We have taken a conservative look at our expenses," he said" and most are teachers."
Manugian added that there had been some restructuring following the resignation of the Asst. Superintendent and elimination of the human resources position, and that now allowed for combining the two functions.
Following lengthy discussion, with many questions and comments from voters, the full budget request for $32,048,878 was passed by voters including $17,756,023 funding for the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District and $572,775 for Nashoba Valley Regional Technical High School.