Approved Mohawk Trail schools budget results in 10 lost positions, plus non-personnel cuts

  • Mohawk Trail Regional School in Buckland. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2020 2:07:36 PM
Modified: 10/12/2020 2:07:24 PM

BUCKLAND — Mohawk Trail Regional School District towns have approved a roughly $20.8 million school budget that represents $70,000 more than last year, but $600,000 less than what the School Committee proposed earlier this year, thus necessitating a series of cuts.

Ultimately, the approved budget resulted in the loss of 10 positions across the district and between $50,000 and $60,000 in non-personnel expense cuts.

Mohawk Trail School Committee Chair Martha Thurber explained that the district has tried to keep budget increases between 2.5 to 3 percent each year. For the fiscal year 2021 budget, the committee had to consider revenue losses from uncollected fees and tuition last spring, as well as account for the rise in expenses that occur each year and additional expenses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic — all during yet another year that state aid would remain virtually the same as past years.

“As expenses go up in things like transportation or facilities or benefits, then the only place for reductions to occur are in reduction and salary,” said Superintendent Sheryl Stanton, who assumed the role after budget discussions took place.

Thurber explained that in February, the School Committee put together a pre-pandemic budget, which was about a 3.3 percent increase over fiscal year 2020.

“But when COVID hit, and it became clear the state revenue picture wasn’t going to be what we hoped, and our local cities and towns were likely to be affected as well … we went back to the drawing board,” Thurber said.

The committee asked district administrators where they could cut roughly $600,000 from the budget. In the meantime, the district submitted to the state a one-twelfth operating budget, using numbers from last year.

“They did that, and it did require some personnel cuts and other expense reductions,” she said.

Personnel cuts came from across the district and across disciplines, Stanton explained.

“Our remote instruction is rigorous, and we are using all staff,” she said. “So whether it is art, or PE (physical education) or music, or special education services, OT (occupational therapy), PT (physical therapy), speech — those have all shifted. There isn’t any place in our staff, whether it’s in person or remote, to say, ‘We don’t really need that right now.’”

The district is down to the bare bones, Stanton said.

“There is nowhere else for us to go that doesn’t impact the quality of programming for students,” she said. “There isn’t an additional counselor, there isn’t an additional fourth-grade teacher. ... None of that exists.”

Thurber said some of the other expense cuts included a reduction in transportation costs, office supplies and conference travel for teachers, as well as non-essential repairs or maintenance.

Despite the $600,000 reduction, towns were still asked to put up the same amount they had been asked to for the budget proposed in February.

“As our expenses go up and the state aid stays the same, the portion of our budget the towns have to pick up is growing, and our towns have limited capacity,” Thurber said.

Thurber noted that as the district navigates an eventual transition to in-person learning, the related cost is a factor that cannot be overlooked, nor can it be a deciding factor.

“It’s extremely tough, because we don’t know what our revenues are going to be, or what our expenses are going to be as we navigate this remote learning to in-person learning at 6 feet apart,” she said. “It costs a lot of money for technology if we need additional staff if we come back.”

Thurber said the Mohawk Trail Regional School District continues to seek help through state and federal grants.

“It’s a scary moment from a budget perspective,” she said.

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne




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