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Gill-Montague schools to cut staff in the face of sudden budget gap

  • Turners Falls High School is located at 222 Turnpike Road in Montague. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE



Recorder Staff
Tuesday, May 09, 2017

TURNERS FALLS — Unexpected expenses are forcing the Gill-Montague School District to enact a spending freeze at the tail end of the school year and will force staff cuts for the upcoming year.

The expenses come from less than anticipated Medicaid reimbursements and higher out-of-district costs for special education students.

The district uses estimates that different departments formulate anticipating their costs for next year. Nancy Parlakulas, pupil services director, presented information on the out-of-district placements, which usually serve children with needs that it would be harder and more costly to meet within the district.

The reason for the increase, according to Parlakulas, is that there were several special education students that moved into the district and other students that were anticipated to return to in-district programs that will instead remain in out-of-district programs. This created a $160,000 shortfall for next year’s budget.

In addition to the special education placements, the district is grappling with less than anticipated in Medicaid reimbursements.

School districts like GMRSD qualify to be reimbursed for medically necessary services they provide children enrolled in MassHealth. The company that processes Medicaid for the district, New England Medical Billing, recently told the district it would be receiving less than was allocated to the tune of $130,000 for this year.

Superintendent Michael Sullivan said the district expects a similar situation for the budget for next school year, which begins July 1, and so he presented adjustments within the budget to the School Committee. That budget was later approved during the annual town meeting on Saturday.

The late news came as a disappointing blow to the School Committee, which had already been able to compensate for the severe cuts earlier in the budget process when they found out the “affordable assessment” for Montague had increased.

“No one should have to alter their teaching between now and the end of June because of this,” Sullivan said on the spending freeze.

The schools currently have about $300,000 left for spending this year; some of that money will go toward expenses and bills already accrued by the district. But Sullivan said by trimming costs until the end of the school year, he can find about $130,000 within that to cover the Medicaid reduction for the current year.

Sullivan said that given the information from the billing company, he anticipates the Medicaid reimbursements will be lower for the 2018 school year as well, which combined with additional funding needed for the special education placements, means there will be a deficit of $360,000.

Cuts to staff, materials

Sullivan plans to include a $10,000 reduction in textbook spending, $10,000 less in professional development, elimination of the shared Sheffield and Hillcrest literacy coach at $50,000 and the elimination of five paraprofessional positions at $90,000.

He also included new reductions to balance the budget: A reduction in hours for the Teaching and Learning director at a savings of $20,000, the elimination of an additional paraprofessional at $18,000, the elimination of a health position at the high school at $50,000, not filling a vacancy for the Sheffield therapeutic teacher at $50,000, and the elimination of a Gill fifth- or sixth-grade teacher to save $50,000.

Those cuts would result in a combined fifth- and sixth-grade class at Gill, where there are about eleven expected students in the sixth grade.

During Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting, superintendent Sullivan said the board will have to vote on that cut at its next regular meeting on May 23. 

The cuts would also result in a semester middle school health course instead of a year-long one, with the intent of having that teacher also teach high school health and child development. The move will also have the high school athletic director teach two additional classes of physical education. Sullivan said that to adjust, the district may have PE be optional for seniors.

Sullivan added that all of these moves were a temporary solution to the unfortunate news the district has received.

Reach Miranda Davis at 413-772-0261, ext. 280 or mdavis@recorder.com.