Hawlemont School Committee passes $2.49M budget

By EMILEE KLEIN

For the Recorder

Published: 03-21-2023 1:25 PM

CHARLEMONT — The Hawlemont Regional School District School Committee approved a $2.49 million budget last week for fiscal year 2024, which includes a Charlemont town assessment increase of 3.96% and a Hawley town assessment decrease of 4.22%.

The budget passed with five votes in favor and one abstention. School Committee members said they prioritized keeping the total budget increase under 3%. The committee attained a 2.39% increase by adding any remaining revenue from the previous year with $100,000 of School Choice money, and by consolidating special education positions, supply lines and funding for substitute teachers.

According to Superintendent Sheryl Stanton, the budget balances the needs of students with operational and fiscal sustainability.

“My goal this year was to stabilize the district, and I think we’ve accomplished that both in the budget and in teaching staff and students,” Stanton said.

Both Stanton and Business Manager William Lataille noted the attention to financial sustainability stems from 17% to 20% upticks in the Hawlemont budget over the past three years, as well as a calculation error that added $118,398 in the FY23 budget. (TMS, the district’s business management service, counted the transportation line twice in the official budget.) Lataille scrutinized the numbers to prevent a similar mistake and to keep increases in the budget as low as possible.

“One thing we’ve done all throughout this year is be sure we have been working to be fiscally responsible to the towns. … We’ve worked really hard to check and double-check our numbers,” Lataille said.

Operating assessment amounts for each town are derived from the minimum contribution, the above minimum contribution and transportation. The minimum contribution amount is derived from property and income taxes of each town, and stems from a formula used by the state government. The minimum contribution is then added to the total revenue of the district, which includes state aid and excess and deficiency funds, to obtain the above minimum contribution figure. Transportation is separated to facilitate state reimbursement.

Based solely on the minimum contribution, Charlemont’s school spending would have increased nearly 24%, or $115,768. Lataille mentioned that due to budget cuts and using revenue efficiently, Charlemont’s contribution for FY24, with a 3.96% increase, is one-sixth of the state-generated number. However, the School Committee understands that any raise in school spending places a financial burden on rural towns.

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“We can’t cut anything else without making larger changes to the way the school is operated, and that’s not feasible right now,” said School Committee member Elizabeth Van Iderstine.

Hawley’s assessment dropped $12,844, or 4.22%, from FY23. Even the town’s minimum contribution decreased by 4.02%. Lataille said fewer Hawley students will be attending Hawlemont next school year, so less money is required from the town.

Stanton noted the goal of the FY24 budget was to financially stabilize the district in preparation for potential management changes. A sustainability study is still in its first phase collecting data on enrollment, finances and programs at both Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts. The second phase will model changes and anticipated savings.

To view budget documents for FY24, visit bit.ly/40qIUhi.

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