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G-M interim supt.  weighs in on budget talks

TURNERS FALLS — Interim Gill-Montague district Superintendent Mark Prince this week elaborated his stance on the budget agreement between the towns and the district.

Prince’s stance on working with an unofficial financial panel sparked debate at last week’s School Committee meeting, with defense of the panel spilling into defense of the associated budget agreement, to which Prince said he was not referring.

The so-called technical panel, an ad-hoc group including the then superintendent, produced the “Table B” financial scenario on which the 2010 budget compact between the towns and the school district, often credited with the end to four years of budget deadlock, is based.

Asked in the meeting whether he intended to meet with the group, variously referred to as the technical panel or technical committee, Interim Superintendent Mark Prince said the work of the panel was complete and he did not expect to do so, but was open to suggestions from any citizen group.

“I’m willing to work with any community organization as we begin to build our budget and I will work directly with the town finance committees ... and I will utilize the compact and the agreements of the compact as best we can,” Prince said this week.

Under the compact, signed by selectmen the towns agreed to try to give the school district about 3 percent more each year for five years, with the district agreeing to try to present a level-funded budget for the following year and then hold to a 2.5 percent increase for the next four.

“I think 2.5 is an obtainable projection but we’ll look at that as the information becomes available,” Prince said.

Prince said he does not believe missing that cap would result in a return to the days of budget deadlock.

“I think if we continue to be open and work with both towns, I think if we put our goals out in front of us and work collaboratively to reach those goals we shouldn’t have a problem with getting the budget passed in town meetings in either town,” Prince said.

Prince said the projections may be on shaky ground, citing outside changes over which the district and towns have no control, such as Gov. Deval Patrick’s decision to cut spending in the face of financial uncertainty resulting from the prospect of the “fiscal cliff.”

In response to Patrick’s decision Tuesday to cut spending to the tune of $225 million, Prince instituted a same-day budget freeze, issuing a letter citing cuts to the buffer program providing special education reimbursement, transportation reimbursement for homeless students and regional transportation reimbursement.

Freezes are not out of the ordinary but would not typically come this early in the fiscal year, according to Prince.

The potential for new residents bringing in children in need of expensive special education or out-of-district placement also presents a risk of sudden changes in the financial situation.

Prince said he does not have time to work on updating the compact projections.

“With the budget schedule and the budget time line that I am held to with the school district, it doesn’t make sense from my perspective to begin to consider revisions of this document,” he said, adding that time would be better spent considering what a quality education looks like in the 21st century.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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