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Pioneer budget will wait for state figures

Recorder file photo
The entrance to Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

Recorder file photo The entrance to Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield.

NORTHFIELD — School budget talks are at a standstill, as the Pioneer Valley Regional School District waits to hear how much the state will contribute toward next year’s spending.

“I don’t think there’s a way to meet in the middle without more information from the state,” said PVRSD Superintendent Dayle Doiron at a recent meeting of the School Committee’s budget subcommittee.

The School Committee presented its proposed maximum budget of $14.3 million at a Feb. 14 meeting. That budget represents a $781,905, or 5.79 percent, increase over the current year’s budget.

State aid is up 0.08 percent in Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposed budget.

Though Chapter 70 state aid is expected to come in $21,325 higher than this year, the governor’s budget would provide $17,807 less in transportation reimbursement, for a net increase of $3,518 from the state.

On the whole, the district’s projected revenue is down $117,162 from this year’s $6.17 million, even after an expected increase of $83,189 in tuition received for students from Vernon, Vt. Revenue is also affected by drop-offs in projected Medicaid benefits that help provide for special needs students, School Choice, and interest on school accounts.

When combined with the increase in the proposed spending, the revenue drop results in a $899,067 jump in what is asked of the towns for next year.

The district’s four towns said there’s no way they can afford such a large increase to the school budget.

“Even with a 2.5 percent increase (to the school budget), we’re looking at a substantial increase in taxes,” said Jane Dutcher, chairwoman of Bernardston’s Finance Committee.

“We met last night, and decided we can go up by 3 percent, but by the time we left, we were deep in the red,” said Lois Stearns, chairwoman of the Northfield Finance Committee.

Warwick has budgeted for a 4.5 percent increase in its contribution to the school budget. Leyden has concluded that it could afford a 2.5 percent increase at most. However, Leyden may see a decrease in its assessment, due to a drop in enrollment, though the town’s share of the Franklin County Technical School budget is expected to increase.

Last year, the School Committee presented towns with three budget options. However, it has yet to present any revision since proposing the budget in February.

“We’re so far apart from what’s realistic on either end,” said William Wahlstrom, chairman of the subcommittee. “Until we get answers (from the state), I’m not sure how we could proceed.”

The jump in the proposed budget comes after years of a nearly level-funded school system.

“Over the last five years, we’ve had a 2.79 percent increase,” said Doiron.

Assessments to the towns have risen at a steeper rate, however, due to decreased revenue and grants. Schools take up more and more of individual town budgets each year. Last year, in the district’s biggest town, Northfield, schools accounted for $4.2 million of the town’s $6.6 million budget.

“Every year, schools are taking a bit more of the towns’ overall budgets,” said School Committee member Jed Proujansky, of Northfield.

“It’s a house of cards, and sooner or later, it’s all going to fall apart,” he continued.

“We’ve cut all of the fat,” said Patricia Shearer, school board chairwoman. “Now, there’s no fat anywhere.”

“The district has looked at cuts,” said Doiron. “Once you go beyond $100,000 in cuts, it’s staffing (we have to cut).”

“It’s fairly clear that we’re not going to go forward with the budget presented as the maximum,” said Proujansky. “But we’re not going to change the figure until we hear from the state.”

In the meantime, Proujansky suggested that the School Committee look into budget reductions and the possible effects on personnel. At the same time, he recommended that the member towns try to find a way to go above what they’ve said they can afford.

“We need to continue (looking at the budget) until we come to a number we can all live with,” he said.

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

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