GROTON -- After a vote authorizing the town to pay for its new Center Fire Station using a debt exclusion, the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee worked on minor fiscal issues that nevertheless related to budgetary matters.
Still working to reduce a $365,000 deficit in its fiscal 2014 budget, the School Committee received some good news Wednesday from Jared Stanton, the district's director of business and finance. Stanton said that amount had been cut down to $330,000 and that he expected to continue whittling away at it on almost weekly.
Stanton said that aside from another $60,000 that at some point could be applied to reducing the imbalance, there were encumbrances attached to various departmental budgets that if not used, could be applied to the deficit amount and hopefully reduce it completely before the end of the fiscal year.
Interim Superintendent of Schools Anthony Bent had only praise for Stanton's performance since taking over in June.
It was soon after Stanton's arrival that the miscalculation in the School Department's accounting revealed a shortfall in funding that resulted in a $2.7 million deficit in the fiscal 2015 budget.
The situation sent school and town officials scrambling to correct the imbalance, ending in the recent fire station vote that if supported at Town Meeting, would free up enough unexpended funds in the tax levy to cover Groton's share of the money needed to make ends meet.
But despite the praise and the debt-exclusion vote, the battle to bring the district's spending under control proceeded with potential cuts represented by a directive from the School Committee for the administration to review the central office to see if its operation could be improved.
Committee members continued to pursue avenues of new revenue by voting to open seats in the schools to 11 new choice students.
The School Committee had previously identified school choice with its potential to bring in an estimated $5,000 in revenue with each student, as a source of more cash as declining enrollment made room for accepting out-of-district pupils.
Wary of keeping class sizes within acceptable limits, the committee had earlier set a limit on choice students to 60.
According to Swallow Union Principal Peter Myerson who presented the request for the students, the 11 new choice pupils to be added to the district in 2015 would keep the total near 60 once some of the current choice students graduate and others transition out.
"These are very doable numbers," Myerson said.
Myerson said 67 applications had been received for the 2015 academic year.
The committee was read a letter from the teachers' union, the Groton-Dunstable Education Association, offering greater participation by its members in the decision-making process regarding future budget issues.
"In the hopes of building a collegial and professional collaboration with the School Committee," stated the letter, read Wednesday by GDEA Vice President Clare O'Neill, "the teachers would like to...request a consultation with the School Committee to establish a collaborative and open dialogue on a consistent basis."
Among the concerns raised in the letter were recent budget cuts and those still "impending" which were described as being "devastating" if implemented; allowance of "stakeholders in the community" room at the table when budget issues are discussed; and making sure that the needs of the special education students are met.
"We would like the opportunity to discuss these issues with you," concluded the letter.
Members accepted the statement with little comment.
Also Wednesday, the School Committee was introduced to Lyn Snow who was recently appointed as the district's director of pupil personnel services.
"I'm very excited to be here," said Snow of her appointment. "I'm very eager to begin."
Although she was expected to be about the district in the coming months, Snow will not officially start until July 1.