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Assessment levels linked to stimulus aid; Superintendent wary of `mini-AIG'.

Byline: Lisa D. Welsh

HOLDEN - The Wachusett Regional School District has set a fiscal 2010 budget of $74.1 million, which will represent a 3.56 percent increase in assessments for each of the five towns in the district.

But before the

towns vote on the budget at town meetings, the assessments could be level-funded - reduced to 2009 figures - depending on how school officials are allowed to use federal stimulus money.

"We know we're getting federal stimulus money, but we haven't been told how we can spend it," said Wachusett Superintendent Thomas G. Pandiscio.

"Our goal is to level-fund the assessment prior to town meetings, but we are waiting for various rules to be written on what we can legally and prudently use the stimulus money for to offset expenses," he said.

"I don't want to find out that I've spent money inappropriately, that special ed money was put into the wrong category, and end up with my own mini-AIG," he said.

"We're not getting the rules, but it's time when we have to make our (budget) decisions. It's frustrating."

The new budget year begins on July 1.

The superintendent had been asked by officials in Holden, Paxton, Princeton, Rutland and Sterling to level-fund this year's budget.

The School Committee kept operations costs to a 0.83 percent increase, managed a 1.68 percent increase for the overall budget, and cut some expenses.

The superintendent said at least $1 million in concessions were made by unions.

Last year, salaries increased by more than $2 million, and this year the increase was kept to $548,753 through benefits and salary leveling and eliminating three teaching positions because of declining student enrollment.

Roughly half of the increase in expenses is attributable to the fiscal 2010 debt payment of $2,547,123 on the high school renovation project.

"Towns have known that this major debt would come up this year, but it came at a real bad time," Mr. Pandiscio said.

Although some budget categories have been reduced from fiscal 2009 levels and some were reduced below fiscal 2007 levels, changes in state aid wiped out those savings.

Though Chapter 70 state aid was level-funded statewide, the Wachusett district is receiving $1.39 million less in fiscal 2010 than fiscal 2009 because of the formula used to distribute the money.

The district will also receive $1,014,887 less in fiscal 2010 than this year in Chapter 71 state aid for transportation.

School officials expect the federal stimulus package will make up for some of the shortfalls, but that has not been determined.

"Using federal money this way is all brand new," Mr. Pandiscio said.

"Thank God that we are getting this money, but it is coming to us in ways that we don't typically see federal money coming."

ART: CHART

CUTLINE: WRSD budget

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/DON LANDGREN JR.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 26, 2009
Words:478
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