By Art Simas, Community Reporter
Southborough – School Superintendent Charles E. Gobron will go to Southborough's Annual Town Meeting Monday, April 11, and let the voters decide on the ultimate fate of the school budgets.
“Our request is in the town warrant,” he told the Board of Selectmen March 29. “There will be no more cuts to the K-8 budget. Any more will hurt students.”
Gobron will propose a Southborough K-8 budget of $16,885,461, which includes the technology component.
Currently, the K-8 budget is $16,446,726, without the technology component, he said.
The Algonquin Regional High School operating budget for both Northborough and Southborough is $17,619,217, which represents a 0.55 percent increase. The Southborough assessment of the $17.6 million is $6,094,184, an increase of 6.87 percent over the current assessment of $5,702,401.
The assessment is a sticking point for both Northborough and Southborough, and the two towns are locked in litigation over which method should be used to calculate the assessment.
Southborough Board of Selectmen Chair William Boland said the assessment is now skewed in favor of Northborough.
Gobron said the assessment stems from the Algonquin addition/renovation project.
“The Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursed the regional school district $36,138,248 toward the cost of Algonquin's addition/renovation project. All of these funds were used to pay down the debt on the school.
“Each year the towns pay a share of the debt. Southborough feels the regional agreement, that requires debt to be assessed using a four-year rolling average, should be followed.
“Northborough feels the provisions of Chapter 70B – which take into consideration each town's ability to pay – should be followed. The difference is estimated at $1.5 million.
“The Massachusetts School Building Authority, the Department of Revenue and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have not wished to become involved in the controversy. The Regional School Committee has been using the four-year rolling average, and Northborough has gone to court to seek an opinion on how the debt should be assessed,” Gobron noted.
Other budgetary items that impact the regional school system include: a $153,000 by the state cut in Chapter 70 school aid money; regional transportation reimbursements, which have been reduced to 50 percent; and potential tuition costs for students who wish to attend the Norfolk School of Agriculture.
Because the regional school system does not offer similar courses, the school system is mandated to pick up the cost of education and transportation costs.
Selectman John Rooney said there's got to be a better way to handle this next year and also suggested starting the budget process earlier.
Budget battles should not pit the town versus the schools. Rooney added, “But next year may be worse. We’ve got to have real expectations. Something has to give a little bit and this is the year that we start.”
“One of these years we’re going to see layoffs,” Boland said. “We’ve been getting by through attrition and not fully funding positions, but this can’t last.”
In a separate interview, Gobron said, “People should understand that we attempt to craft budgets that meet the needs of our students and, at the same time, take into account the fiscal constraints the towns are facing. We, too, have suffered the loss of state revenue over the past few years in the form of less circuit breaker reimbursement for special education and serious cuts to regional transportation.”
He added, “We have wonderful schools, dedicated teachers and highly successful students. Our schools are regarded very highly throughout the state. One challenge we face in difficult fiscal times is continuing to provide the kind of education needed to prepare today's students for their future. Unfortunately, we can’t succeed the way we have without the financial support of the towns.”
In other business, the selectmen approved $2,129 for a sign to be located at the southwest entrance of the new Triangle Park near the MBTA stop in Cordaville.
The sign depicts historical landmarks and the countryside of Cordaville and Southville, taken from a hot air balloon in the 19th century.
Nancy Vargas, chair of the Cordaville Triangle Park Committee, said the park has been a 10-year project.
An official grand opening of the park will take place later in the spring.