Proposed Greenfield schools budget up 4.7%

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Public Schools Superintendent Jordana Harper is looking at a budget without major cuts to staff.

Harper presented an $18.9 million budget proposal to the Greenfield School Committee, a 4.7 percent increase over last year’s spending plan that accounts for the continuing rise in special education costs and the need to further support the rising Spanish-speaking population in the schools.

There will be a public hearing on the superintendent’s proposed budget on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Greenfield High School.

Though it does not offer any major cuts, the budget proposal does not meet all of the needs that Greenfield principals sought earlier in the month, per the recommendation of the superintendent.

Part of the reason for not being able to fund all the requested positions was the superintendent’s desire to get significantly under the $19.5 million cap that the School Committee suggested.

“I’m pretty excited with where that budget is coming in,” said School Committee Vice Chairman Cameron Ward, who heads the budget subcommittee. “I’m excited for looking at it more closely over the next several weeks.”

Harper’s decision to come in under the cap stemmed from her hearing from Mayor William Martin that budgets will likely at best be level-funded this year — following a year when the Town Council cut budgets 1 percent across the board in the final stage of the budgeting process.

“This budget does not include all of the requests by principals. They were certainly reasonable requests but we made a budget that is a feasible budget considering the town’s limited budgets.” Harper said.

While the overall price tag presented by the superintendent to fund the schools is $18.9 million, $6.3 million of that comes from local funding while a majority of it comes from state funding. The local amount would increase by roughly $800,000 from the existing $5.5 million that Greenfield taxpayers pay.

The proposed increase can be seen as a big jump, but it can somewhat be explained by the superintendent’s long term plan to move funding sources into the general account from grant-based sources to decrease dependence on temporary revenue streams.

“We’re trying to phase out our reliance on grants and other revenue that isn’t necessarily sustainable,” Harper said.

Budgeting spat

With Ward attending the meeting through a conference call, a majority of dialogue was between School Committee member and former superintendent Susan Hollins, School Committee Chairwoman Adrienne Nunez and Harper. The members in the room had been searching through line items to find places to squeeze out dollars for an additional teacher’s salary or money for tutors.

As the meeting approached its second hour despite a scheduled one-hour slot, Ward was asked by Hollins his thoughts on their discussion to this point.

“We can talk about this exorbitant amount of time,” Ward responded.

Harper expressed the budgeting process has been compressed this year, saying, “You can’t do everything in a short period of time.”

But a significant amount of time was spent at the beginning of the meeting rehashing questions Hollins had submitted to Harper following Friday’s budget meeting.

“We still under $19 freakin million?” Ward said. “Then we’re providing a great education.” The subcommittee chairman adjourned the meeting shortly thereafter.