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Mohawk budget up 2 percent

Parents, students, teachers question staffing changes

BUCKLAND — The Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee has had its first presentation of a $17.7 million budget request but teachers, school parents and students are already questioning staffing changes that have come up in recent budget discussions.

The budget proposal represents a 2 percent increase, but Mohawk regional towns will see their assessments go up an aggregate increase by 3½ percent, as the district cuts back on the use of its “rainy day” revolving funds to reduce town assessments.

The public hearing for the budget is set for Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Mohawk Trail Regional School. The school board is scheduled to adopt a budget request by the end of February.

Mohawk Regional Superintendent Michael Buoniconti pointed out that the 2015 budget proposal is actually $222,780 less than the approved budget for fiscal year 2010. However, state aid for education will be about $74,240 less than it was 10 years ago.

Also, bus costs for the 250-square-mile school district have gone up by about $300,000, but state reimbursement for regional school district transportation is expected to cover only about 40 percent of the transportation costs, according to Mohawk officials. This year’s transportation costs are about $1.1 million and expected reimbursement, based on the governor’s budget projections, will be about $450,000.

“We’ve been spending about $1 million a year out of our savings, and only bringing in about $600,000 in revenues,” school Superintendent Michael Buoniconti explained. “Our enrollment will be flat, but our K-12 enrollment has dropped below 1,000.” Buoniconti recalled that the school district had between 1,300 to 1,400 students in the school district in 2005. The enrollment projection for the next school year is a total of 964 students — with 495 in the Mohawk middle and high school, and 469 in the four elementary schools. This year’s October enrollment was 495 in Mohawk Trail Regional School and 473 in the elementary schools. However, pre-kindergarten enrollment for next year is expected to rise by eight.

Staffing cuts and additions are estimated in “full-time equivalency” hours (FTEs), to account for reduced hours for several full- and part-time staff members. The 3.79 FTE staffing cuts for the Mohawk Trail Regional School include the loss of a physics and a chemistry teacher (one of them is retiring, and the other is taking a sabbatical), and the removal of a half-time theater instructor, which has been changed to a stipend position. Several audience members asked why technology teacher Peter Otten’s middle school position is being eliminated. Otten is to be re-assigned to work as an elementary school teacher.

In the elementary schools, six FTE teachers’ aides positions will be cut, as well as a counselor position at the Colrain Central School. Also, a cafeteria manager position will be eliminated at the Heath School.

The superintendent’s central office will see a half-time position cut, now that the office is preparing to serve just two districts — Mohawk and Hawlemont — instead of three. Until now, the Mohawk superintendent’s office has always been shared by Rowe, but the contracts with the Rowe School District have not been renewed for the budget year that begins July 1.

If the current budget proposal is adopted, here’s how much each member town will pay for operating and capital budget costs, and what the assessment increase will be:

∎  Ashfield $2,028,423 — a 2.8 percent increase, of $53,225.

∎  Buckland $1,979,780 — a 5.6 percent increase, of $102,735.

∎  Charlemont $748,478 — a 9.25 percent increase, of $61,824.

∎  Colrain $1,701,751 — a 1 percent budget reduction, of $12,781.

∎  Hawley $149,745 — a 5 percent increase, of $7,145.

∎  Heath $784,847 — a 7.5 percent increase, of $54,530.

∎  Plainfield $618,423 — less than 1 percent decrease, of $4,202.

∎  Shelburne $1,879,947 — a 2.75 percent increase, of $49,029.

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