CHESHIRE -- With little hope for a significant increase in state aid, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District is facing a nearly $1 million deficit in next year's budget.

The School Committee met on Wednesday night to begin the process of drafting a budget for fiscal 2015, which administrators say is as tight as possible without making more cuts to district staff. The committee has a public hearing set for March 24 to vote on the final budget.

"We're going to present a budget tonight that we don't necessarily want," Superintendent Kristen Gordon said to begin the meeting. "We tried to cut the budget without cutting staff."

Business Administrator David Hinkell projected an increase of $580,000, or 3.5 percent, in foundation budget expenditures, largely due to annual teacher salary increases, repairs to Cheshire and C.T. Plunkett Elementary schools, and other operational costs.

Meanwhile, the state's Chapter 70 aid, under the governor's proposed budget, would only increase by $35,600, and charter school reimbursement would decline by $41,000.

In total, the district's revenue is projected to fall by $155,400, leaving the towns with a $735,740 gap to fill.

"There's nothing in here excessive," Hinkell said. "There's no contingency."

Other areas of the budget, such as transportation, are remaining mostly flat. The district considered forcing students who live within one and one-half miles from their school walk. Ultimately, it determined there would be no savings since such a plan wouldn't reduce the total number of buses in the district.

Capital expenditures are slated to increase by $1,032,590, as the full weight of the middle/high school renovation hits the district in fiscal 2015. But $870,670 of the capital expenditures is excluded from the towns' levy limit under proposition 2 1/2.

School administrators say that based on initial discussions with town officials, there's a $400,000 gap between how much the towns are willing to allow the district to spend under the levy limit and what the district hopes to levy. For example, Hinkell estimated that Adams town officials will set aside $179,000 of its $488,000 tax levy limit for the district.

"It's a scary budget, it really is," Hinkell said.

As part of a way to close the gap, the committee may ask teachers to delay scheduled salary increases or raise their benefit contribution levels.

In the preliminary budget, the district once again refrained from adding a much-desired curriculum director and full-time school adjustment counselor.

Committee member Joshua DeMarsico-Birkland pointed to the lack of these positions, and a short staff in general, as one of the reasons why Adams Cheshire spends one of the lowest amounts per pupil of any district in region.

Others pointed to a lack of state funding -- which increased roughly 0.4 percent -- as a source of annual budget woes.

"The math just doesn't add up," said Committee Chairman Paul Butler.

To reach Adam Shanks:

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