In third vote, Pioneer School Committee settles on FY22 budget without world language program

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Staff File Photo/Zack DeLuca

Staff Writer
Published: 4/9/2021 5:34:58 PM

This article has been updated with new information pertaining to Pioneer Valley Regional School District school choice enrollment.

NORTHFIELD — The third time proved to be the charm for the Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s fiscal year 2022 budget, with School Committee members unanimously approving a $14,851,290 figure on Thursday.

In March, the same budget figure failed, for the second time, after extended debate around inclusion of an exploratory world language program for the elementary schools, which would have required an extra $36,800.

The School Committee reconvened on Thursday, and unanimously approved the $14,851,290 figure, but not without continued discussion about world language programs.

Committee members also discussed and approved School Choice numbers. The School Choice program allows parents to send their children to schools in communities other than the city or town in which they reside, and tuition is paid by the sending district to the receiving district.

According to a presentation from the district’s principals, School Choice numbers for Northfield Elementary School total 25 openings; at Bernardston Elementary School, 10 openings; and at Pioneer Valley Regional School, 53. A total of 88 slots are available across the district’s schools.

Director of Finance Tanya Gaylord’s budget presentation showed that 27 students have chosen to choice out of the district next school year to attend charter schools. On average, she said, 22 students typically do so. According to Gaylord, the district pays roughly $17,880 per student’s who charter out.

“Three kids equals a teacher’s salary,” Gaylord said, explaining the financial impact via telephone, Monday, April 12. “If three kids charter out it’s like us hiring another teacher.”

A chart shared by Administrative Assistant and Records Access Officer Joanna Wallace Monday, shows the 2020-2021 school choice enrollment numbers as of January 2021, with a total of 199 students enrolled out of the district. According to this chart, 70 students at the high school level have opted to attend Franklin County Tech or Smith Vocational School, 24 students attended Four Rivers Charter School in grades seven through 12, five students attending online school such as the Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School, 45 students enrolled in other district public schools, 49 enrolled in private or parochial schools and six students enrolled out of state.

The “true” choice out number that greatly affects the budget, Gaylord said, is for students who choice out to attend charter schools, or other district public schools. The district does not pay out for students attending private or parochial schools, or students attending out of state.

Gaylord noted that the number of students choosing to attend other public districts, 45, was an improvement over the 60 students in the 2019-2020 school year. Still, she acknowledged the total figure of students enrolled outside of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District was significant.

“199 kids - that’s an entire school. It’s more than Bernardston or Northfield elementary,” she said.

During the April 8 School Committee meeting, Mike Townsley, who was recently voted School Committee vice chair and who was a proponent of including the world language program for the elementary schools in the budget, expressed concern with the number of students choosing to choice out of the district or attend charter schools. He argued that a world language program would show investment in students’ education, and potentially help retain students.

Superintendent Jonathan Scagel said it’s important to offer such opportunities to students, and that he is in favor of a world language program, but he didn’t recommend including it in the budget at this time.

“One of my goals coming in as superintendent three years ago, after programs were cut and teachers were cut, was to revitalize our district and look into initiatives, programs, partnerships with Greenfield Community College and local businesses to really retain the students we have and attract new students,” Scagel said. “As you can see from these numbers, we’re spending a lot of money, sending a lot of money out of the district.”

According to Scagel, the district has reached out to the University of Massachusetts Amherst and GCC to learn more about potential world language programs, and they are exploring online language learning platforms for elementary school students.

“I’m confident we will have funds throughout this budget process — everybody knows the budget changes — to be able to support, at some point this coming year, either a half-time teacher but more ideally a full-time world language teacher in the elementary schools,” Scagel said. “Initiatives like this are important, and I know we want to be conscious and financially responsible about not adding to this current budget, which I agree with.”

School Committee member Karen O’Neil noted that the Curriculum and Policy Subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend the exploratory world language program after hearing a presentation on the benefits and requirements for including world language. While in favor of the program, she agreed with the need to stay within the budget.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.



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