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School budget going up?

Greenfield board requesting more to meet growing demand

GREENFIELD — Rising enrollment, an expected increase in state aid and a need to make up for reduced special education funding are driving an 8.5 percent increase in next year’s school budget, said Superintendent Susan Hollins Thursday.

The $17.1 million draft budget, presented by Hollins to the Greenfield School Committee Thursday, will cover at least nine more full-time staff members and 11 part-time staff members (some already covered by grants). But it could add even more — like reading tutors and a new personnel director — depending on the amount of state aid the district receives.

“The reason our budget is going up is not that we’re reckless. It’s because we’re growing,” said Hollins. The district’s lower grades have between 140 and 160 brick-and-mortar students, compared to high school grades that are under 100.

More students means the need for more teachers, said Hollins. The budget will pay for two part-time elementary teachers, one part-time middle school teacher, three full-time middle school teachers, two full-time high school teachers and two part-time music teachers.

It also will pay for at least four full-time and five part-time non-teaching positions. But Hollins also has a wish list of initiatives to improve the school district, which includes new positions like reading tutors, a library/literary support position, a payroll clerk in the business office, a personnel director, a part-time guidance counselor and a part-time gym teacher.

The draft budget is $1.34 million higher than last year — an amount that local officials are expecting to be covered by increased state aid.

In Gov. Deval Patrick’s budget proposal, Greenfield is in line to get $1.78 million more in Chapter 70 aid — the major program of state aid to public elementary and secondary schools, which last year funded 68 percent of the school district’s budget.

If that amount sticks, the town will turn over about $460,000 less in “local funding” sources (like taxes) than it did last year. Even if Greenfield’s final Chapter 70 aid is 75 percent of what the governor is asking for, the town would still be paying $20,000 less than last year.

And if the district had to reduce its budget, Hollins said it would be those school system initiatives that would most likely be cut.

While Chapter 70 aid is expected to increase, the same can’t be said for the state’s “circuit breaker” special education funding.

What was in the area of $750 million in statewide circuit breaker funding five years ago is now down to $230 million next year, said Chairman John Lunt. It’s a big loss, he said, because the districts count on that money to cover the high costs of supporting its disabled students — which sometimes exceeds $100,000 for one child.

Lower reimbursement rates and a higher cost threshold (the point when districts can ask for reimbursements) is placing Greenfield in a $400,000 gap, said Hollins.

The school district’s budget calls for an increase of $484,000 (3.1 percent) in money for special education — an effort by local officials to make up for the loss without having to cut into other parts of its budget.

The committee didn’t start talking about the budget until 9 p.m., because of a two-and-a-half hour discussion on the district’s virtual school’s future.

As a result, members asked for more time to analyze and deliberate on the budget.

“I’m concerned we don’t have enough time to hear what everyone has to say,” said Mayor William Martin.

Lunt scheduled a special School Committee meeting for next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the high school.

The committee will then meet again to finalize the budget, as previously scheduled, on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at the high school.

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