Greenfield School Committee OKs FY25 budget proposal with 5.29% increase

CHRISTINE DEBARGE

CHRISTINE DEBARGE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-04-2024 5:51 PM

GREENFIELD — The School Committee has approved a $24.2 million budget proposal for fiscal year 2025, with administrators summing up the budget as the next step in a series of efforts to improve students’ education and experiences.

The proposed budget represents a 5.29%, or roughly $1.3 million, increase in local contributions to the total budget. The majority of increases are driven by integrating several line items, which were previously funded by pandemic-era relief grants that are expiring in the near future, into the budget.

“I believe, and our administrative team believes, that the work we have been doing for the past three years is starting to show an impact for our students and we believe strongly that we should be continuing with the structures that we have,” said Superintendent Christine DeBarge. “It’s always challenging to try and allocate a budget that meets the priorities of everyone in the district.”

The numerous grant-funded items that have been reinserted into the local budget include: the BEACON program, school counselors at the middle and high schools, the director of behavior services position, technology and the an elementary library media specialist, among others.

DeBarge noted the individual line items in this year’s budget may look like they are making major cuts to departments, but those are the result of shuffling those salaries into other appropriate line items.

Some increases, such as the Academy of Early Learning’s 79% increase in the teaching staff line item, represent contractual increases for staff and a change in the use of revolving funds.

The proposed increases, said DeBarge, who is retiring at the end of the school year, are an opportunity to further invest in the school district, which has seen chronic absenteeism rates decline by more than 7% and the number of students meeting their growth goals double.

“I want to share some of the positives because the school budget represents a significant portion of the city budget and I thought it was fair that we share some of the good things that are coming from the use of those funds,” DeBarge told the School Committee at last week’s budget hearing. “We feel strongly we need to retain the structures that we have in place. We have data to support that what we’re doing is having a positive impact.”

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Several members of the public, including students, requested the district continue to strengthen its music programs. DeBarge noted the district added an elementary instrumental music teacher and the Strings for Kids program will return for the following school year.

“We recognize there are some challenges, but we did add the instrumental music teacher back in, we invested a fair amount of money last year on new instruments on the elementary level,” DeBarge said, noting there was some concern about supplies and equipment costs. “I know that was a concern, and a fair one, but I expect we’ll see some significant change in that piece going forward.”

The School Committee approved the district’s budget proposal, 6-0-1. Mayor Ginny Desorgher, who also holds a seat on the School Committee, abstained. Later this spring, Desorgher will put forward a budget proposal that includes all city departments. The total budget will need approval from City Council.

Committee Chair Glenn Johnson-Mussad said budgets are complicated processes and all communities have to face these struggles at some point.

“These are people’s hard-earned dollars that go to work and we want students to get the best outcomes possible,” Johnson-Mussad said, adding that the budgeting process is extremely difficult and adding more funding into any department isn’t as simple as putting a bigger number on a spreadsheet. “If folks want to come out and tell us we want more funding for music, I’d love to hear what line item you’d want us to take it from.

“Do you want us to take it from English language learners, or from the equity coordinator, or from special education, or from the BEACON project that allows students that aren’t being served by the standard curriculum to have an alternate experience?” he continued. “I think the even bigger question to answer is why are we in the position to have to make those types of decisions? … Why are communities all around having to invest so much effort into battling out over these relatively small amounts of money in the richest country on Earth?”

A portion of the budget hearing can be watched on Greenfield Community Television’s YouTube page at bit.ly/4319jVC, although technical difficulties prevented the recording of the full meeting. Budget documents, including the presentation shared by DeBarge, can be found at bit.ly/3TmUpWA.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.