Mohawk school district: Public hearing on $21.5 million 2021 school budget Wednesday 

  • Mohawk Trail Regional High School STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 2/16/2020 5:09:04 PM

BUCKLAND — The public will have a chance to comment on next year’s proposed $21.5 million school district 2021 budget — with a 3.62 percent, or $751,093, increase over this year’s budget — at a public hearing on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Mohawk Trail Regional School auditorium. The Fiscal Year 2021 budget will run from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021. The District School Committee will vote on a final budget on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

“Unlike in past years, the MTRSD School Committee itself has not yet reached a consensus on the FY21 budget, pending further input from our constituencies at the public hearing,” School Committee Chair Martha Thurber said. “This year’s process has been a difficult one.”

Thurber said in December, senior administrators delivered a fully level services proposed budget that reflected an 8.64 percent increase over this year’s budget to the Budget Subcommittee, which requested they eliminate $1 million from the proposed budget.

Administrators did as asked, which left it at a 3.61 percent increase, but then the subcommittee requested another $400,000 reduction. After discussions between the subcommittee and administrators, they were not comfortable with a 1.68 percent increase, saying it was not educationally sound, given the extent of reductions to existing programs and staff it would mean, Thurber said.

She said ultimately, the subcommittee and administrators agreed on the current increase, which means a 6.9 percent increase in aggregate assessment to member towns.

When the proposal was presented to the full School Committee on Feb. 12, a number of committee members and members of the public strongly opposed the elimination of two programs and related personnel: the elimination of the wood shop program at Mohawk Trail Regional School and its veteran teacher, as well as the elimination of the existing in-school musical instrument instructional program at the elementary schools and its instructor, which would be replaced by an after-school program, paid for by a combination of user fees on a sliding scale and existing grant funding. Thurber said after a “very lengthy” discussion, the School Committee agreed to add those programs back in.

She said state education aid (Chapter 70) has remained virtually flat for more than 15 years, so the burden has fallen to members towns.

“We are aware that this is a particularly difficult budget for our towns, and we are deeply appreciative of the support district towns have provided our schools in the past,” Thurber said. “We will need to work together to develop a final proposal.”

She said over the past five years, Chapter 70 education aid to the Mohawk District has increased by an annual average of only .5 percent, placing the burden of rising costs on our towns, and total anticipated revenues from sources other than towns are down by $104,071, driven largely by lower expectations for School Choice revenue and reimbursement for extraordinary special education costs known as Circuit Breaker.

“This budget is not a level-services budget,” Thurber said. “We were unable to find reductions in non-educational services sufficient to maintain the full array of programs the district currently offers.”

Thurber said this will all be discussed with the public on Wednesday, and members of the public will have an opportunity to provide input so that the School Committee will have all of the information it needs to vote a final budget the following week at a meeting in the superintendent’s conference room Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 6:30 p.m. The snow date is Thursday, Feb. 27.

Each year, MTRSD prepares a budget that covers operations at Mohawk Middle School and High School, Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, Colrain Central School and Sanderson Academy. The superintendent incorporates input from principals of each school, as well as other administrators, teachers and others involved in day-to-day operations in schools.

After a draft budget has been created, it is reviewed and revised, beginning with the Budget Subcommittee of the School Committee, holding open meetings weekly between November and January, and after it votes to recommend a final proposed budget, it goes to the full School Committee for consideration. The School Committee then holds a public hearing to get feedback and input from parents, town officials and others.

The entire process must be completed by March 1 each year.

When the School Committee has passed a proposed budget, it is presented at annual Town Meeting for the voters to decide. Under the Mohawk Regional Agreement, member towns must approve the budget for it to become effective. Those towns are: Ashfield, Buckland, Colrain, Heath, Plainfield and Shelburne, who are kindergarten through grade 12 members, and Hawley and Charlemont, who are grades 7 through 12 members.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-0261, ext. 5269, or afritz@recorder.com.




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