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Pioneer district sets town assessments, sends Bernardston to special town meeting

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Regional School District finally has a budget in place after months of uncertainty.

That budget comes to $13.67 million, about $6.18 million of which will come from state aid and other district revenues, leaving the district’s four towns to fund $7.49 million.

The budget passed represents a $610,000 reduction from an “essential services” budget of $14.28 million presented in February, before state figures came out earlier this month.

About $425,000 can be saved in staffing, said district Superintendent Dayle Doiron. This includes replacing some retirees, who were at the top of their pay scale, with new hires making far less. Other retirees, however, were not replaced.

This will result in Bernardston Elementary School losing one of its two sixth-grade classrooms, and Northfield Elementary School losing one of two fifth-grade teachers. A full-time literacy coach shared by the district’s four elementary schools, and a shared special education inclusion specialist, and a therapeutic special education teacher at the high school are also not being replaced after retirement. Two full-time aides at Pioneer, a special needs aide and a technology aide, will also not be replaced.

Other reductions include moving the Warwick Community School nurse’s position and a shared technology aide from full to half-time positions, and a four instead of five-day workweek for a shared social worker.

The district has also cut a $155,000 technology replacement plan nearly in half. Doiron said $80,000 will be used to replace equipment necessary to currently offered programs.

Despite all the cuts made, she said, there’s still another $185,000 to go before reaching the approved budget.

For Bernardston, that budget could be a problem. The budget passed Thursday by the School Committee calls for the town’s share to increase 4.03 percent from last year’s. However, Bernardston voted to fund a 2.5 percent increase in June, for $2.32 million.

This leaves the town short $34,752, and they’ll have to pay it. That will most likely mean a special town meeting.

The local assessments passed by voters in the district’s other three towns, Northfield, Leyden and Warwick, were more than enough to fund their shares of the now-approved budget. Since the total budget needs the approval of only three towns, Bernardston doesn’t have a choice.

Until recently, it wasn’t clear what percentage of town assessments each town would have to pay. Changes made at each stage in the state budget process kept the School Committee, and member towns, guessing.

“The committee has a lot of control over the total budget, but no control over the distribution to the towns,” said Doiron.

That’s the purview of the state. The state determines each town’s ability to pay, based on municipal growth, and also factors in each town’s enrollment, based on a five-year rolling average.

That rolling average is part of the reason, Bernardston is paying more. While other towns enrollments have decreased in recent years, Bernardston’s has remained steady, said Doiron.

The School Committee considered two budget proposals at its Thursday meeting. Both figures were within the amounts approved at the Northfield, Leyden and Warwick annual town meetings, but both were above the amount approved in Bernardston.

The first cut $550,000 from the February essential services budget, and would have increased Bernardston’s assessment 4.88 percent from last year’s. After little debate, the committee chose option two, cutting $610,000.

Though Bernardston’s share of the budget increased the most this year, outgoing committee member Jed Proujansky said things usually even out over time.

“We have to look at how towns will be affected over time,” rather than year-to-year, he said.

He used Leyden as an example.

“One year, Leyden’s assessment increased by about 23 percent,” he said.

Leyden is the only town to be paying less this year than last. The town’s assessment has decreased by $50,224, from last year’s $775,407.

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