UPTON – In its version of a fiscal full court press to assist member communities, the Blackstone Valley Vocational Regional School District has approved a budget request containing a minimal 1.65 percent increase.
The drastically pared down operational blueprint for Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School was unanimously approved by the District School Committee Thursday evening, a little more than 24 hours after learning that the state intends to significantly increase the minimum contribution rates of Valley Tech towns. Based on trends over the last several years, however, the state’s decision to give statewide communities more responsibility for the financing of regional school districts did not catch the School Committee by surprise.
“We knew going into this budget process that our towns’ minimum contribution rates were probably going to rise,” explained Budget Subcommittee Chairman John Lavin, III, of Douglas. “We know what kind of dire financial challenges our towns are facing, so we did our best to further tighten Valley Tech’s belt and see what we could do to help.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the School Committee shared a litany of cost containment strategies used to reach the low increase of 1.65 percent. By refinancing its existing debt and earning an improved bond rating from Moody’s Investment Services, the District secured an 11.15 percent drop in debt obligations for FY16. The insurance line item decrease of 7.37 percent was attributed to negotiations with healthcare providers, as well as ongoing efforts to decrease costs by establishing a culture of health and wellness among District employees.
Superintendent-Director Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick said that many cost reductions were the result of improved efficiencies in Valley Tech’s facilities, including upgrades to the building’s boilers, a comprehensive study of the plumbing system, and the school-wide consolidation of printers and copiers.
“From our pipes to our purse, the School Committee left no potential source of cost reduction unexamined in its development of the FY2016 budget,” Fitzpatrick commented.
In addition to the creative cost containments and minimal increase of 1.65 percent, the District further mitigated the state’s increase in the minimum contribution rate by authorizing the use of $250,000 in available reserves funds and incorporating the projected receipt of grants, gifts, and additional revenue sources.
“In order to be helpful to our member communities while protecting the quality education that led to more than 900 applicants for enrollment next year, we have removed the need for additional assessments over and above the minimum contributions required by the state,” said School Committee Chairman Joseph M. Hall of Bellingham. “We hope this decision is well received.”
Blackstone Valley Tech’s proposed budget increase of 1.65 percent will now head to 13 town meetings this spring. Traditionally, the annual budget proposal has received the unanimous support of Valley Tech’s member communities.
“We do our best to craft a plan we can justify and utilize to provide quality opportunities for our student body,” Superintendent-Director Fitzpatrick said. “The public has placed their trust in us. We don’t want to let them down.”
The proposed budget totals $21,317,222