Greenfield Council to vote on $52M budget Wednesday

  • Greenfield Town Hall STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/21/2019 10:37:55 PM

GREENFIELD — On the eve of the $52 million budget vote, city officials remain at odds over how to fund the schools.

A decision on the city’s spending plan, which could set the tone during the campaign season for the next mayor and whether residents want to pay for a new public library, will be made by the City Council tonight, 6 p.m. in the Greenfield High School auditorium.

Mayor William Martin and Finance Director Liz Gilman issued a memorandum Tuesday afternoon to the City Council that goes into detail on what money is available to help pay for the Greenfield Public Schools.

The memo came in response to one Superintendent Jordana Harper and Business Manager Stephen Nembirkow sent to the city Friday afternoon.

It also follows a correspondence between Martin and Harper via email Friday in which the mayor made a request to School Committee Chairwoman Adrienne Nunez that he be included in all financial questions.

Martin said it was “strangely unusual to exclude the mayor on such emails you have recently sent” to Gilman.

Harper forwarded the email to City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud, stating to the outgoing council president: “I am concerned about the unnecessary escalation of small and process/clarification issues, as well as chastising the chair before the full committee and both city school employees.”

A couple business days later, Martin and his team responded to the superintendent in regards to questions over budget finances.

The superintendent and later the School Committee approved a $20 million budget for this upcoming school year. The mayor, who sits on the committee, later put forward an $18.6 million school budget.

Harper has said if the council was to approve this budget it would lead to layoffs, while Martin and his team have said those layoffs are actually budgeted as new hires.

Martin and Gilman last week proposed a few ways in which the council could bump up its initial $51.3 million budget and provide more funding to the schools, although it would further raise taxes and require a two-thirds vote of the council.

The council’s Ways and Means Committee then recommended a $758,000 hike in the mayor’s proposed budget, specifically to help meet the roughly $1.35 million gap between the school’s request mayor’s proposal.

Much of the discussion has focused on revolving funds accounts and state Chapter 70 education money. The mayor and superintendent have different views on how to best use these funds, which has led to a majority of the back and forth over the budget gap and whether there should be a gap in the first place.

In Harper and Nembirkow’s memo Friday, they conclude the city can find $1.3 million in savings to pay for the schools.

In Martin and Gilman’s memo response Tuesday, they conclude that number is not accurate and a majority of that funding is not available.

“I am not sure why layoffs keep being mentioned if there is $800,000 worth of new positions,” in the upcoming budget, Gilman said in her memo. “I would pose the question, ‘What are the number of layoffs and dollar amount (current employees only) in the alternate $19.1 million budget drafted?’ ”

Gilman is referencing a budget the mayor’s office has seen that outlines how the schools could run without its requested $20 million budget.

Harper and Nembirkow have debated the interpretation that the committee’s budget has $800,000 in new hires.

In an email to the Greenfield Recorder last week clarifying the budget line item, Nembirkow said the budget includes one new program, the GREAT Schools Program at the Green River Schools, which funds one teacher, one paraprofessional and one custodian at a total cost of less than $125,000. “All other additions were offset by corresponding reductions to a variety of operational lines,” he added.

In the school memo, officials cautioned the use of too much revolving funds to pay for this year’s expenses considering the windfall of Chapter 70 funding they have received from the state this year.

“While the School Committee may well consider additional reserves to prevent massive layoffs, if necessary, this is still a Band-Aid approach,” Harper said in her memo — which strikes a similar note to one Martin has said that the current funding approaches to local education are likely not sustainable.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at: jsolomon@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.




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