Greenfield Schools to advocate to keep $20M budget

  • Greenfield Superintendent Jordana Harper speaks at a School Committee meeting in March. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 4/24/2019 10:36:29 PM

GREENFIELD — Faced with a potential $1.35 million to cut from its requested school budget, Greenfield Public Schools Superintendent Jordana Harper and her business team are expected to advocate tonight for its full $20 million budget despite the mayor’s slash. 

If the schools have to reduce their budget to $18.65 million, as Mayor William Martin proposed earlier this month, it will likely lead to “drastic cuts” across the board, Greenfield Public Schools Business Manager Stephen Nembrikow said Wednesday. 

This means that the previously discussed cuts to school bus routes for children living in public housing at Oak Courts, which is technically within walking distance of school, would likely be back on the chopping block, Nembrikow said. 

This also could mean potential cuts to the before-school care program, a reduction in the number of kindergarten classes at Four Corners Discovery School, along with other teacher cuts. 

The Greenfield City Council’s Ways and Means Committee will meet tonight, 6 p.m. in the John Zon Community Center to discuss the school budget for Greenfield Public Schools, along with Franklin Technical High School and Smith Vocational High School. 

With a $51.3 million city budget proposed by the mayor, it already marks a 5 percent or $2.4 million increase from this year’s budget; the proposed spending plan would increase the tax rate by 2.5 percent. A majority of increases, as usual, are contractual, like union-negotiated salary increases and pension payments. 

In his budget memo, Martin said: “This budget is not a representation of what we totally want. This budget is a reflection of what we can accomplish with known annual revenues.”

At the council’s previous budget meetings, At-Large City Councilor Isaac Mass and Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis, who is running for mayor, have advocated to reduce a budget that is larger than expected. 

Part of the questions over the school budget have revolved around a significant increase in Chapter 70 state funding from what the schools usually receive. Greenfield will likely get $1.1 million in state aid. 

City officials have differed on how to spend this bump up in state aid money — whether it should all go to the schools, how much of it should go to the schools and if it does go to the schools, should that be an excuse to spend more. 

While the $20 million budget marks a 7.5 percent jump in spending from this year’s current plan, it is a 1.6 percent, or a $300,000 increase in the request for local taxpayer money. School officials have argued that this is why the budget is not irresponsible, but it is rather what’s needed to educate the city’s children. 

Harper said in March the increase in state aid is an “opportunity to solve the problem” of a potential and likely funding cliff that Greenfield could be driven over in the next couple years. 

Before the Greenfield School Committee approved the superintendent’s budget in March, following her plea for the $20 million, Cameron Ward, chairman of the committee’s budget subcommittee, said the budget process is a “brutal game.” 

“I do want to give the teachers everything they need to do the job,” Ward said in March. “I also don’t want that increase to be so large that we can’t keep up with it. I’m not just here for the next couple of years. I’m here for the long haul. I love Greenfield.”

Since this meeting, school officials have worked to find ways to address budget questions raised by residents and the mayor. 

Earlier this week, the budget subcommittee approved buying three vans to transport its special education out-of-district students, instead of continuingto contract it out to a private company. 

The schools will use $70,000 earmarked in 2014 for transportation. Along with $20,000 from the typical budget line item, this would be enough to buy the vans. 

The decision to handle special education out-of-district transportation in house has the potential to save the Greenfield schools $223,000 a year. 

This plan, although not already approved by the committee, was already budgeted into the superintendent’s budget, so it does not work toward reducingthe Greenfield budget. 

Currently, transporting eight out-of-district special education students costs about $355,000, while the new method would cost $132,000, according to Nembrikow. 

The plan may also generate revenue in the future. Greenfield may be able to bus students from other districts for less money than those districts currently spend, which could help the city, Martin said. 

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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