WEST NEWBURY — The Pentucket Regional School District is hoping to avoid a “one-twelfth” budget as West Newbury, Groveland and Merrimac each move to review the district’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget at their town meetings next month.

Once two of the three have held their town meetings and approved the budget, then the district can move forward with its fiscal 2021 budget, Business Manager Greg Labrecque said at a virtual School Committee meeting Tuesday night.

West Newbury will hold its meeting June 1, Groveland on June 8 and Merrimac on June 15.

If the budget is not approved, the district would have to resort to a “one-twelfth” budget, which means drafting a partial budget for each month as opposed to one year.

Labrecque is not a fan of this possibility.

“It’s not a good situation, especially for someone like us who has massive payments in July,” he said.

These payments include money for retirement costs, insurance expenses and a couple of months after that, Labrecque said there is a payment of “about $4 million” due for construction of the new middle-high school.

In addition to worry about the town meetings, Labrecque expressed concern about receiving money from the state, which funds half of the district’s annual budget. The state has postponed most budget meetings until it determines the extent of revenue loss from COVID-19.

“The longer (the state) stays closed, obviously, the less revenue they collect,” he said, adding that money provided through Chapter 70, the Student Opportunity Act and Special Education Circuit Breaker will “take a hit.”

Labrecque said that could affect the net minimum spending requirement by town, which would in turn change the assessments sent to them. 

“I think everybody realizes that fiscal 2021 is going to be kind of an adjustment year,” he said. “Fortunately, our towns are very well situated for this type of thing. They all carry, I would say, envious stabilization accounts compared to what a lot of places carry.”

The district also has a stabilization account that should have about $1.4 million by June 30, Labrecque explained. 

In looking ahead, Superintendent Justin Bartholomew said “nobody really knows” what the next few months will look like and how these numbers would be affected. 

The district is especially concerned about Circuit Breaker, the state program calculated under the Chapter 70 program that aims to pay back 75% of special education costs above a certain threshold.

Pentucket budgeted $1.4 million for Circuit Breaker this year, but if the percentage of return is much lower, the impact could be “devastating,” Bartholomew said.

Those numbers might not be revealed until late summer or early fall, he said. “Nobody knows.”

Also at the meeting, School Committee members elected new officers.

Dena Trotta of West Newbury took over as chairwoman from Lisa O’Connor of Groveland; Wayne Adams of Merrimac took over as vice chair from Trotta; Richard Hodges of Groveland took over as secretary from Adams; and Marie Felzani of West Newbury took over as assistant treasurer from Hodges.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the amount Pentucket set aside for the Circuit Breaker to $1.4 million.

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