Quabbin panel optimistic on budget; Voters must OK school cuts.Byline: Bradford L. Miner
BARRE - Quabbin Regional School Committee members and district administrators are optimistic an additional cut of $228,382 from the proposed fiscal 2010 budget will be enough to gain voter approval in Hardwick or Oakham.
Approval of an assessment from either community based on the $32.6 million figure the committee adopted Thursday night means an approved budget for the five-town district.
At the meeting of the budget subcommittee and the school committee, members unanimously approved a $199,248 reduction in salaries and a $29,134 cut in expenses.
School Superintendent Maureen M. Marshall told committee members she was pleased with the tenor of budget compromise talks with Hardwick selectmen and Finance Committee members.
Based on the committee's approval of $32,652,425 for this fiscal year, Hardwick's share of $1,846,784 is $16,231 less than voters had approved at the annual town meeting in June.
Mrs. Marshall said the district administrators' discussion with Hardwick officials resulted in verbal assurance they would recommend approval of the assessment at the next special town meeting.
Edward F. Leonard of Hubbardston, chairman of the regional school committee, echoed the superintendent's sentiment, saying he appreciated the leadership role of Hardwick selectmen and Finance Committee members in working toward a compromise they could endorse at town meeting.
Since late August, voters at special town meetings in Oakham, Hardwick and New Braintree had rejected assessments based on a July 23 budget reduction of $100,000.
Some town officials called that cut from a $32.8 million budget "a joke," and "inappropriate," given the extent of cuts being made in municipal services.
The subsequent discussion gave rise to calls from many of the same town officials for greater budget transparency in the form of an understandable line-item budget.
The new budget figure means New Braintree's assessment of $886,718 is $111 less than what voters in that town approved at the annual town meeting, and New Braintree joins Barre and Hubbardston in the column of district towns with approved assessments.
"The budget strategy discussion we had with Hardwick officials was very productive, and hopefully will allow us to resolve the budget ourselves, rather than having the state do it for us," Mrs. Marshall said.
"This is not the budget we had hoped for, and it doesn't allow the district to move forward, but it does stabilize things. I would imagine officials in the district towns feel the same way. Approval of this budget will allow everyone to get back to the task at hand," she added.
If Hardwick voters approve the assessment, that will meet the district agreement requirement that four of the five member towns ratify the school committee budget.
Jon Boucher, member of the Oakham Finance Committee, praised Cheryl A. Duval, Quabbin finance officer, for translating the budget from the state-required "appropriation control report" format to the more familiar line-item budget format.
Mr. Boucher said he hoped the district would continue to provide finance committee members and others in the five district towns with budget information that held "a reasonable amount of detail."
Ms. Duval said yesterday she spoke with Mr. Boucher after the meeting about Oakham's recalculated assessment of $1,351,031, which is $48,118 more than voters had carved out for Quabbin costs at the annual town meeting.
Mr. Boucher and others at a recent special town meeting had argued against an assessment that was $76,656 more than what the voters approved in June.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/STACEY ARSENAULT
CUTLINE: Quabbin Regional School District