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Proposed Pioneer budget would increase town assessments by 7.6 percent average

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo



Recorder Staff
Monday, February 12, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Ruth Miller penciled increases into the first draft of next year’s budget that some School Committee and community members think sound ambitious.

The initial budget proposal, which was presented with revisions on Thursday, assumes an approximately 10.8 percent increase to the general budget from $14.1 million this year to $15.6 million next year. The combined general and revolving funds, however, would increase from $15.1 million to $16.6 million next year, a change of about 9.3 percent. Both figures increased by $564,675 from figures presented the previous week.

Based on Thursday’s measures, town assessments would increase by a total of $671,886, or 7.63 percent. Broken down, Bernardston’s assessment would increase by 7.85 percent, or $222,923; Leyden’s by 8.39 percent, or $58,991; Northfield’s by 7.65 percent, or $341,795; and Warwick’s by 6 percent, or $48,177.

The subcommittee was surprised by the high proposal, but envision it as a jumping off point.

“This is where we have to start,” subcommittee member Peggy Kaeppel said during the Feb. 1 meeting. “We have to put in what we think we need to meet the needs of our students.”

Continued discussion

“It’s just ridiculous to even talk about this,” Bernardston Selectman Robert Raymond said. “You’ve got to find places to cut.”

Two alternative budgets were presented: one would require $400,000 of cuts, and would see assessments raise an average of 2.74 percent; the other would require $680,000 of cuts, and assessments would raise by an average of 0.47 percent.

Two large bills

With a request to eliminate the school lunch deficit, which was $247,130.48 at the end of December, also on the towns’ plate, the figures left town officials reeling.

“It looks like the two of ’em combined are gonna be over $1.20 added on our tax rate,” said Warwick Selectboard Chairman Lawrence “Doc” Pruyne, alluding to a school lunch payment and Warwick’s assessment.

“That’d be devastating to us,” Northfield Finance Committee Chairwoman Lois Stearns said of taking on the two payments, adding that Northfield is losing about $500,000 of tax revenue yearly now that the campus is tax-exempt under Thomas Aquinas College’s ownership. “Already, people are enraged at their tax bills. … I just think there’s going to be a rebellion on paying a lot more.”

Stearns and Bernardston Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Dutcher hoped the school lunch payment could be spread over three years.

As for the budget, Dutcher said, “I think I could sell my committee on the middle road” that would require $400,000 in cuts. Dutcher said such a budget would mean adding 30 cents on Bernardston’s tax rate.

Budget

Pioneer Valley Regional School’s budget involves a 12.4 percent increase to $3,859,790. Principal Jean Bacon said the proposal includes adding two staff members. One would be an adjustment counselor for the Bridge for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT) program.

“For that program to function fully the way we’d like it to, we need to add an adjustment counselor,” Bacon said.

The other would be a curriculum coordinator that would work half-time at Pioneer and half-time at the elementary schools, Bacon said. Given recent decreases in the number of Pioneer administrators, Bacon said she and Assistant Principal Jennifer Albert Perry have handled curriculum this year, with help from faculty.

“Even last year, it was very clear that Jen and I could not devote the time to curriculum issues that is really needed to move (Pioneer) forward,” Bacon wrote in an email. “That is even more clear this year as we have absorbed (former Dean of Students Cathy Hawkins-Harrison’s) duties on top of what we had already absorbed from the (curriculum coordinator). … It is just not possible to do all that needs to be done with our current staffing.”

Due to having significantly under-budgeted substitute budgets this year, Bacon is also proposing increasing the substitute budget from the $35,000 allotted this year to its original $50,000, which she feels is more reasonable given expenditures.

Northfield Elementary School Principal Megan Desmarais proposed the same, raising her substitute budget from the $20,000 budgeted this year to the $33,000 typically budgeted.

Desmarais also accounted for replacing the remaining chalkboards with whiteboards to ease use of projectors and buying equipment for hearing-impaired students.

Christine Maguire, the school district’s special education administrator, explained a spike in her budget — which increased $484,423 in a budget presented Thursday — comes largely from transportation costs and private or out-of-district tuition.

Miller said the proposed budget includes money to hire a part-time business manager and a part-time superintendent. Budget subcommittee Chairman David Young said it also puts $50,000 aside for the school lunch program.

Where to cut?

When considering where the budget could be cut, Miller said she wants to look into having all students, from kindergarten to 12th grade, ride on the same buses. She also believes another bus could be cut.

Dutcher and Bernardston Selectman Brian Keir wanted to consider Northfield Elementary School and Warwick Community School sharing a principal, as the Bernardston Elementary School and Pearl Rhodes Elementary School currently do.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

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