Low state aid figures for Gill-Montague prompt budget revisions

Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School.

Turners Falls High School and Great Falls Middle School. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ


Staff Writer

Published: 01-31-2024 6:34 PM

Modified: 02-09-2024 7:02 PM

MONTAGUE — The Gill-Montague Regional School District is working to shore up a budget facing a roughly $500,000 shortfall due to an unexpected loss of state aid.

The district’s School Committee has approved a roughly $27.67 million preliminary budget for fiscal year 2025, a 0.7% increase from the current year’s numbers, to bring to a public hearing in February.

On Jan. 30, the School Committee was set to vote on a preliminary budget crafted by Business Manager Joanne Blier that predicted a $730,895 increase in Chapter 70 state aid. Six days before the vote was to take place, however, the state came out with its Chapter 70 numbers, and the district’s funding came in $702,755 lower than expected. This sent the committee and Blier scrambling to make up for the difference for the vote in preparation for a meeting with the two towns on Feb. 7.

“After the release of Chapter 70, we were able to adjust some revenue lines as well as some expense lines to balance the budget,” Blier said at the Jan. 30 School Committee meeting. “While we lost $702,755 from our state aid revenue line, we were able to revise some of the other revenue lines to minimize the need for expenditure reductions to just $509,131.”

Making up the shortfall

Over the six days leading up to the vote, Blier worked to balance the budget, coming up with $200,000 in reductions and revenue increases.

Blier increased the interest income by $52,000. She said this could happen by working with banks and putting the district’s money in certificate of deposit (CD) accounts.

“We are going to keep working with banks to earn more interest,” she said.

She also eliminated $76,061 from the School Choice budget and $43,500 from the charter reimbursement account. These funds went down due to the anticipated graduation of certain students. There was a $53,827 reduction in the operating assessment and an additional $55,236 in the revolving account budget. Some of this is due to a reduction after a union contract negotiation.

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Gill-Montague Superintendent Brian Beck said the district plans to minimize any staffing reductions so it does not impact personnel, and will start by not filling positions that are currently open.

While the preliminary budget was approved on Tuesday, the school district still has until March 12 — 45 days before the first town votes on the budget at Annual Town Meeting — to balance the budget.

State aid drop

Chapter 70 funds provided by the state are calculated by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education using a formula driven by foundation enrollment. Foundation enrollment accounts for all school-aged children in the district, while district enrollment accounts for only students attending the district’s school — excluding School Choice students, residents who opt to attend a charter school and out-of-district special education students.

At Gill-Montague, foundation enrollment declined by nine students from FY23 to FY24, but in-district enrollment increased from 866 to 917. In-district enrollment continues to increase because the district is seeing a decline in the number of students seeking to leave the district through School Choice or charter school enrollment.

“Foundation enrollment and district enrollment were far apart in 2020; in 2024 they are getting closer together,” Blier explained.

If the Chapter 70 figure for a district is lower than the previous year’s, then the district is “held harmless” and receives at least the same amount as the year prior. Since FY19, the district’s Chapter 70 funds have been “held harmless” for three years and increased for another three years.

Blier noted that the formula for Chapter 70 is frustrating for rural towns and favors districts with more students. These districts are often given more than the minimum annual increase in Chapter 70 funding, which is $30 per pupil for FY25. According to Blier, 53 districts shared 87.5%, or $230 million, of the total $263 million in extra aid coming from Chapter 70.

“We are one of the remaining two-thirds of the districts to receive just the minimum [increase] of $30 per pupil in FY25,” Blier said.

To view Tuesday’s budget slideshow, visit bit.ly/3SI0sol.

Reach Bella Levavi
at 413-930-4579 or