NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

January 2, 2013

Proposed Pentucket budget up 3.5 percent to $35.9M

Superintendent aims to make district among the best

WEST NEWBURY — “Pentucket no longer seeks to compete with other high performing local districts, but endeavors to rival the best in the world.”

So said Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen in a letter that opened his presentation on a proposed budget for the upcoming school year.

Mulqueen partnered with business manager Michael Bergeron to present the district’s budget booklet at the final meeting of the Pentucket Regional School Committee in 2012. The $35.9 million budget proposal — which includes a five-year business plan — represents a 3.5 percent increase over this year’s budget.

The school board kicks off it annual budget talks by holding meetings on the next four consecutive Tuesdays — Business, Finance and Operation subcommittee meetings held at the elementary schools in Groveland, West Newbury and Merrimac on Jan. 8, 15 and 22 and a business meeting at the high school on Jan. 29.

Mulqueen said his world-class vision becomes a reality when Pentucket is “the educational opportunity of choice for students, the employment opportunity of choice for outstanding educators and the investment opportunity of choice” for the three district towns.

But a likely $833,954 shortfall for next year means some tough choices for the school board this winter. Once again, major cost drivers for the budget fall in the areas of employee health insurance and special education services. State aid regularly underestimates these costs, leaving local communities to make up the difference.

The administration is hopeful that new legislation that allows districts to tap into the state’s Group Insurance Commission or purchase a “benchmark plan from the current provider” will provide some savings in health care costs.

Bergeron admits that his budget estimates are conservative. No new growth for the district towns is reflected in the proposal since that information is not yet available, but he is hopeful higher new growth revenues locally may mean the towns can afford to increase their assessments.

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