As school administrators continue to work next year's budget, some School Committee members are warning that the tough fiscal times of the past several years are starting to take a toll on the system. As school administrators continue to work next year's budget, some School Committee members are warning that the tough fiscal times of the past several years are starting to take a toll on the system.

District and building administrators recently submitted a level-services budget to Supt. Susan Skeiber and Business Manager Mickey McGonagle, Skeiber said at last week's School Committee meeting.

With a level-services budget, the district would maintain the same level of class sizes, extracurricular and athletic programs, support services, and keep fees at the same amounts.

"Level service isn't exactly a bed of roses," said School Committee member Karen Wong. She noted that some class sizes are already above what might be considered ideal.

There has been discussion with principals to determine what other items might be needed in the budget to help the district improve, Skeiber said.

"Maybe we can come up with some number that is less than ideal, but not level service," said Wong. "We shouldn't be bartering text books and taking from one area to serve another."

The school department recently set aside money to purchase new pre-calculus text books, Skeiber said, but the purchase of those books meant that there would not be money in the budget to purchase text books for other classes that might need them.

School Committee Chairman George Cipolleti said the musical chairs with the text books is only one indication of a district not offering all it can to its students.

"We have to ask ourselves what kind of district we want to be," he said. "Do we want history text books that end in the Carter era?"

Cipolleti said the district should be one that provides services that make sense to students in this day and age.

"I'm pretty sure we're not meeting the definition of a what a first-class district has," he said. "We need to let the town see what our vision is for the district and what it will cost and not present a duct-tape budget."

"A duct-tape budget?" Wong asked.

"That's pretty much how it's held together," Cipolleti said.

The budget cuts have gone deeper than not just being able to purchase up-to-date textbooks, Cipolleti said.

"I've gotten a number of e-mails about the elimination of the late bus last year," he said. The elimination of the late bus has put a number of students and families at a disadvantage.

"It's one of the things we do not provide that we would like to provide," Cipolleti said.

Looking at the big picture, McGonagle said, the town and the schools are faced with a revenue problem.

"If you look at solving the revenue problems, the other problems will go away," he said.

With an average 2.2 percent per year increase in the school budget over the past five years, McGonagle said, the district is strapped for cash even for the current year.

"There is no more money anywhere," he said. "If we have any problems this year, we will go into a deficit as a result."

Special education costs, especially transportation for out-of-district students, and legal fees could strain this year's budget, Skeiber said.