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PVRS district seeks 5.79 percent increase

A draft budget for the upcoming school year calls for an increase of $781,905 across the Pioneer Valley Regional School District.

The proposed budget, presented at a public hearing Thursday night, represents the maximum amount the district can ask for to fund the coming school year. Several capital expenses are also being proposed, for projects at Pioneer Valley Regional School, the district’s central office, its four elementary schools, as well as the replacement of aging computer equipment at all six locations.

The proposed district-wide operating budget is $14,280,950, a 5.79 percent increase from the current budget.

“This year, the budget we’ve put together is an ‘essential services’ budget,” said Dayle Doiron, district superintendent. “It covers all programs, meaning personnel, services and supplies, needed to serve the students that we know now will be enrolled in the fall.”

Doiron said that, while nearby districts have experienced a recent decline in enrollment, her district expects next year’s enrollment to be about the same as this year’s.

Increases to “fixed costs” account for about a third of the budget hike, at about $278,000, said Doiron. These include costs like health and workers compensation insurance, an increase in retirement payments due to an increase in retirees, and money necessary to run the central offices, according to Doiron.

The regional middle and high school’s proposed budget is $227,888, or 5.51 percent, more than this year’s. Northfield Elementary School’s budget is up $72,199, or 4.69 percent; Bernardston Elementary School sees an increase of $43,674, or 3.57 percent; Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School budget rises $14,160, or 3.66 percent, and Warwick Community School’s budget is up $20,999, or 4.02 percent. Shared costs rise $82,096, or 6.86 percent, and special education would be increased by $42,852, or 3.61 percent.

All proposed budgets are subject to change as the district continues the budgeting process.

Capital projects for Pioneer Valley Regional School come in at $36,500, and include $15,000 for a front door alarm system, $5,000 for a faucet hydrant mandated by the state, $8,500 to replace the well water pump, and $6,000 to $8,000 to install an air conditioning backup for the school’s technology room.

Bernardston Selectman Robert Raymond emphasized the importance of the air conditioning backup.

“If that room gets too hot, we could lose $100,000 of equipment,” said Raymond.

Raymond also said that he felt the $30,000 budgeted for maintenance at the regional school was too low, and that he would like to see more problems addressed before costs increase. Others agreed, with the caveat that any budget increase is subject to voters’ scrutiny.

Proposed projects for the central office are $45,000 for continuing work to the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, and $5,000 for burglar and fire alarms in the modular buildings.

Bernardston Fincance Committee Chairwoman Jane Dutcher suggested that the district-wide projects each be presented as separate articles at each town’s annual town meeting, to increase the chances that they will pass.

Capital projects require approval from all four towns, whereas the operating budget can pass with three affirmative votes.

Capital projects at Northfield Elementary School total $26,000, and include $5,000 each to repair windows and replace hallway tiles, $10,000 to calibrate the heat system, and $6,000 to replace carpeting in two classrooms.

Bernardston Elementary School seeks $53,300, with $15,000 for a front door security camera and door buzzer system with handicapped accessibility, $33,000 for phase one of flooring replacements, $5,000 for chimney repairs and $300 for basement windows.

The Warwick Community School seeks $72,000, with $60,000 to repair or replace a generator, $10,000 to insulate and heat a generator room, and $2,000 to replace window blinds and shades.

Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School asks for an estimated $25,000 to replace a boiler and controls.

The district will be asked to fund $157,720 to replace laptop and desktop computers, iPads, projectors, and other computer and wireless networking equipment.

“Typically, it’s recommended to replace user-end (computer) equipment every five years, due to operating system, networking, and other changes,” said Doiron. “Most of the items on this list, we’ve had for seven or eight years. We’ve extended their lives as far as possible.”

In addition to deciding which capital requests to fund, the district’s towns must decide how they’d like to pay back their share of projects already completed.

Last year, the towns approved a $240,327 project to fix the boilers at PVRS. The state kicked in $135,208, and the towns’ shares are $53,086 for Northfield, $31,010 for Bernardston, and $10,512 each for Leyden and Warwick. The towns’ end of the project was financed with short-term borrowing, and towns must decide whether to pay their shares in cash by the June 30 end of the fiscal year, or through long-term borrowing.

A $19,285 project which fixed the roof and attic windows at Northfield Elementary School also comes due at the end of the fiscal year, but is the sole responsibility of Northfield.

The loan taken out to build Pioneer is nearly paid off. The debt was restructured last year, and that provided significant savings, said Doiron. This year’s payment will be $550,900, with local shares of $251,376 for Northfield, $177,280 for Bernardston, $65,336 for Leyden and $56,907 for Warwick. After this payment, two annual payments remain until the school is paid off.

Early next month, the School Committee’s Budget Subcommittee will meet to discuss the ability of the district to fund the operating budget. Adjustments to that budget will likely be made before the towns vote on it at their annual town meetings.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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