, Newburyport, MA

February 4, 2014

School Committee continues FY15 budget talks

By Jim Sullivan

---- — BYFIELD — The next two weeks will be crucial for the Triton Regional School District as the district’s proposed Fiscal Year 2015 (FY15) budget meets Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed spending plan.

“We are still well early in the process,” said Triton Assistant Superintendent Brian Forget. “We are certainly not ready to be giving assessment numbers to the towns or to have them assuming that the (school) committee has made any decisions, because we are still talking in the hypothetical.”

Triton’s FY14 budget was $38,635,975, but there is no set dollar amount for what the Triton FY15 will be at the moment. The process of nailing that down begins at the School Committee meeting in the high school library on Wednesday night. A final Triton budget proposal will be delivered a week later.

“On the 5th, we will have some pretty clear guidance, because we obviously want to bring them a document back a week later that they are going to approve,” Forget said. “So the guidance that we receive on 5th of February will certainly be very telling.”

Patrick’s FY15 plan proposes a 4.9 increase in state spending to $36.374 billion, $204.9 million of which is an increase in education funding which will raise Chapter 70 funding to $4.4 billion.

“The state knows that we should be spending more than that to provide for an adequate education,” Forget said. “But the (Chapter 70) formula doesn’t recognize it. In a perfect world, every town would pay a minimum, then Chapter 70 would provide the rest. But because every town is spending well above the minimum to provide basic services, it gets confusing, especially as a region.”

Most cities and towns in the Commonwealth are spending well above Chapter 70 foundation since the formula has not been adjusted since the Mass. Education Reform Act of 1993. Currently, Chapter 70 is contributing $1.2 million to Triton for FY15 which is also projecting $175,000 in new revenues, leaving around $1 million to come from somewhere else.

“Nothing is decided,” Forget said. “There is about $1.2 million in new expenditures and there is a possibility of assessing $1 million more to the three towns. The process is now ongoing.”

Currently involved in his eighth school budget as a Rowley selectman, Dave Petersen had a look at the budget proposals during a special school committee meeting on Saturday, Jan. 25 and said this year’s model is nothing new.

“They are not looking for anything outlandish or out of the ordinary,” Petersen said. “Obviously, costs are going up for the schools just like anything else. The numbers are starting at a reasonable level and I’m sure there will be some back-and-forth. I think we should be able to come to some agreement without too much trouble as far as Rowley is concerned. We are all kind of hoping that the governor would propose some increases in local aid and that the increases in Chapter 70 would be bigger. But we’ll see what happens as it goes through the legislative process.”

Requests for reinforcements in technology and special education were at the top of the five principals’ wish lists while maintenance and repairs to all the school buildings were among the must-do items. Forget said that class size and student support are sacred items to the district and stressed no one is talking cuts at this time.

“No one can make any assumptions yet,” Forget said. “We are still teasing out the must-dos but people need to be affirmed that we are focusing on a budget that is a must-do budget. I wouldn’t even venture a guess on what the bottom line would be.”

The final budget numbers are due to be presented to the three towns on March 15. The budget must then pass in two of the three towns.

“It’s going to be a very tight year,” Forget said. “Last year we had a lot of savings to offset increases. Increases aren’t going up exorbitantly but it’s looking a lot tighter than it did last year.”