GROTON -- With concerned parents filling the high-school library, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee met Wednesday night to continue deliberations on how best to tackle a $2.7 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2015.
At a working session the week before, members were given a "doomsday list" of potential cost-saving measures by interim Superintendent Anthony Bent that included school closures, relocation of the central offices, staffing cuts and elimination of the district's athletics program.
If all were adopted, the district could save $2,766,000.
But that seemed unlikely as the cuts were prioritized. Member James Frey told Dunstable residents Wednesday the administration had already been told to take the closure of the Swallow Union Elementary School out of consideration.
Frey also called the list of potential cuts a "living document" with most items still on the chopping block.
With the district's Business Director Jared Stanton calling the fiscal 2015 budget "lean," Bent said such proposed measures as cuts in foreign languages and the arts, increasing class sizes, and the closure of Swallow Union were "onerous," "distasteful," and would "decapitate the school system."
Others, such as outsourcing custodial services and relocating the central offices from the former Prescott School were less so, as members voted to relocate the central offices.
Other ways to meet the shortfall was to find new revenue. Members voted to increase fees for the school-lunch program.
Increasing those for athletic programs was put off until their meeting March 5 when members are expected to vote on a budget for 2015.
The shortfall was discovered late last year, when it was shown that the approved school operating budget for fiscal 2013 stood at $35,200,000 while total obligations by the district came to $36,204,212.
Initial cuts were able to eliminate the shortfall for that year while further efforts, including more cuts and new sources of revenue, were able to reduce the shortfall for 2014 to $464,485.
But since the initial problem with the budget had a rollover effect in subsequent years, a major problem remained for 2015.
For that year, according to the district's proposed budget, Groton would be assessed $1.9 million and Dunstable $674,579 over their assessments in fiscal 2014.
The bottom line for the district's proposed budget for fiscal 2015 comes to $36,436,892.
Frey said cause of the problem was a combination of accounting errors and the district not asking the town's for enough new funding over the last two years.
Now they needed the $2.7 million just to catch up to where they should have been.
But for some members, that was not enough.
Aside from the need to maintain a level-serviced budget, member Leslie Lathrop suggested the district should ask for more money to re-establish services that had been cut in years past.
Residents seemed sympathetic to the schools, with one telling the committee "maintaining level services is a place to start."
"Just do what you need to do," said Groton resident Colette Kuchel, advising the committee to disregard cost and do whatever was needed to keep the schools where they thought they should be.
Members decided to wait until their March 5 meeting to make any final decisions on further cuts or added fees.
Among those possible deliberations was a proposal by high-school Principal Michael Mastrullo to raise athletic fees as a cost-saving measure.
Mastrullo said there were 775 students enrolled in the 55 programs across the high school and middle school, paid for by a $300 per-student fee with a $1,000 cap for families.
The principal proposed raising those fees by $100 per student and $500 for families which would raise about $77,500 for the district.
Mastrullo's proposal also included charging gate fees and reducing the number of games played in a season.
After considering the proposal, members thought they needed more time to think about it and postponed a decision until March 5.
Mastrullo was also on hand to introduce School Committee members to a new "global schools" initiative at the high school, where students would be "exposed to the world."
According to Mastrullo, Groton-Dunstable was "not a diverse place" and students needed to have their "global awareness" raised by a more "active participation in global society."
He said they would do so by taking designated classes and earning a "global competency diploma."
As part of the program, Mastrullo told school officials every student would have the opportunity to travel overseas and for those who could not afford to travel, fundraising activities would be conducted to earn the money they needed.
Already this year, some students will travel to China to attend a conference on global leadership. In 2016, other trips are planned for Ecuador and Italy and in 2017 to Germany and the Dominican Republic.