"We Don’t Need an Override," Says School Committee Chair
“I will not sit here and be quiet while we raise people’s taxes for no reason,” stated School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert during a discussion of the proposed fiscal 2020 budget for the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District. Her comments were made during the Feb. 6 School Committee meeting which was also attended by members of the Groton Select Board and Finance Committee. Her statement followed a question by Select Board member Becky Pine who noted that the School District’s proposed 2020 budget exceeded what the town had available to spend and that the initial deficit could trigger a request for an override.
Gilbert was firm in her belief that the School District would not need an override of Proposition 2 ½ to close a deficit of $214,000 which was created when the School Committee increased their proposed spending for fiscal 2020 to cover unexpected expenses and staff additions. At the beginning of the budget process, the School Committee learned that the district incurred significant unexpected costs in Special Education, Middlesex County Retirement assessment and Charter School tuitions. In addition the School Committee wanted to follow through on staff additions that needed attention following an audit of the School District last year.
The School Committee tried to cover most of the unexpected costs and staff additions through available funds within the District budget. School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert told the Herald that the School Committee was able to cover most of the unexpected costs and anticipated salary costs of new staff through a reallocation of current funds which involved a re-ordering of priorities in the budget, and through a transfer of funds from the District’s Reserve Fund. Even with those funds, the School Committee was not able to cover all the shortfall and left the proposed 2020 budget with an “imbalance” of $214,000.
The $214,000 imbalance was part of a wide-ranging discussion between School Committee members and town officials from Groton and Dunstable. Swirling in the background were rumors of an override (which would involve a tax increase greater than a 2.5 percent increase) and whether the town would have to scale back some of its proposed expenditures to meet the school shortfall. When Select Board member Becky Pine brought the issue to the forefront, Gilbert was quick to respond to dispel notions that an override would be needed this year.
Gilbert said the development of the fiscal 2020 budget is still fluid; revenue sources are still being reviewed including an annual 911 grant of $230,000 which the District receives every year. She believed that if necessary that grant money could be used to cover the $214,000 shortfall. “I don’t want an unjustified override,” she stated. “And, I will not support an override. We don’t need one.” Gilbert said it would make no sense to request an override when for each of the past two years, the School Committee has certified more than $2 million in “Free Cash.”
With the revised figures, the total proposed fiscal 2020 budget for the School District is $43.3 million which includes operating expenses, debt and the unexpected expenses. This is $1.5 million higher than this year’s total budget and represents a 3.5 percent increase. State aid, transportation reimbursement and other outside revenue sources account for $13.8 million leaving the remaining $29.5 million to be covered by assessments to Groton and Dunstable. Based primarily on enrollment numbers, Groton’s assessment will account for approximately 77 percent of the assessment while Dunstable’s share will account for 23 percent.
It is projected that Groton’s assessment to the School District under the revised fiscal 2020 budget proposal will total $22.3 million. That is nearly $1 million higher than this year’s assessment and represents a 4.5 percent increase. Dunstable’s assessment is projected to be $6.7 million which is $287,000 higher than this year’s assessment and also represents an increase of 4.5 percent.
Further adjustments to the School District’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget are likely before the School Committee makes a final vote to certify the budget. Gilbert indicated that a team composed of members from the School Committee, Select Board and Finance Committee will be meeting to discuss the proposed budget in the next few weeks.