Gill-Montague faces potentially tight budget year

  • Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2021 9:46:11 PM

MONTAGUE — The Gill-Montague Regional School District’s budget for next school year will seek to make up for students’ academic and social losses this year, but will be challenged if state support slows due to the pandemic.

A preliminary budget discussed by the School Committee this week is worth over $24.1 million, which would be a 2.6 percent increase over the current year’s budget of about $23.5 million.

But, expectations of funding sources are not yet fully clear, partly due to uncertainty over whether state support for public schools may change to make up for schools’ losses related to the pandemic, said Gill-Montague Business Manager Joanne Blier.

Estimating conservatively, Gill-Montague’s revenue for next school year’s budget could increase by as little as 0.8 percent — causing a shortfall of about $400,000 in the current budget draft.

“That’s definitely what we are going to be working on over the next couple of months,” Blier said. “Hopefully it comes to us in (state funding).”

Part of the problem is that the district’s enrollment dropped substantially this year, largely due to families choosing to home-school their children during the pandemic or, in the case of younger children, to not send them to school at all, Blier said. District enrollment this year was 849, compared to 934 last year.

Enrollment is key in the formula that determines state funding to school districts — meaning that, at this rate, state support will fall short of what the district would have reasonably expected if not for the unusual drop in enrollment.

For comparison, in fiscal year 2020, after the state changed its school funding model, Gill-Montague’s state aid increased by about $200,000. In fiscal year 2021, it increased by $600,000. In fiscal year 2022, according to the enrollment numbers, it will increase by only about $80,000.

However, according to Gill-Montague Superintendent Brian Beck, there is talk that the state may use last year’s enrollment numbers for school funding, knowing that the pandemic has caused unusual changes in enrollment.

“At least we are hopeful of that,” Beck said.

If that happens, it should cover the expansions that the schools had planned on — which include extra staff among teaching assistants, counselors and custodians — as well as obligations related to insurance and retirement plans.

If not, Blier said, other sources of grant funding may help to make up the difference, and the new positions would probably be reconsidered.

A public hearing on the school budget will be held on Feb. 9. The state’s decision on funding should be finalized by the end of January, Blier said. The final budget proposal is set to be voted by the School Committee on March 9.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-930-4231.




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