North County selectboards disappointed in School Committee’s late budget process

  • The Bernardston and Northfield selectboards are disappointed with the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee due to a late start in the budget process. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Thursday, February 08, 2018

Town officials in Northfield and Bernardston are none too pleased with the lack of punctuality shown by the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee when it comes to preparing next year’s budget.

The Bernardston Selectboard, during its Jan. 31 meeting, and the Northfield Selectboard during its Tuesday meeting, both discussed receiving a letter from Superintendent Ruth Miller on behalf of the School Committee requesting the date of the budget hearing be pushed back to allow more time to craft a budget. Both selectboards voted to write a reply expressing their disappointment.

“They haven’t done their job,” Bernardston Selectman Brian Keir said. “Every other district in the county has the same deadline (to submit its budget), and have been having their public hearings, but we can’t get the information going. It’s a sad state.”

“They just fail to do their job,” Bernardston Selectboard Chairman Stanley Garland added. “We’re very disappointed in them.”

The Northfield Selectboard, having heard about Bernardston’s response, voted to send a similar letter. Selectman Jack Spanbauer suggested writing “a letter of disappointment in the lack of progress by the School Committee.”

Slow steps

When the budget subcommittee first met to start the budget process last month, its members hoped to move the budget hearing to March 8. However, because the regional agreement requires the district adopt a budget by Feb. 15, the subcommittee decided to ask the selectboards in Leyden, Bernardston, Northfield and Warwick for more time.

Miller’s letter requested the boards approve changing the regional agreement “for this fiscal year only” because of “a lack of revenue information from the state.” An extra month, she wrote, would allow for “more information to inform our FY19 budget process.”

“There’s nothing different in this year’s state budget process than there has been in the past,” Garland said after reading Miller’s letter aloud. “My way of thinking is they just failed to meet when they should have to start the process.”

The first budget meeting this year was held on Jan. 11. By comparison, budget meetings were underway in December of 2016 to prepare the current budget.

Bernardston Selectboard members worried granting a one-time request to push back the process would lead to requests from the School Committee each year.

“You know they’re gonna want it every year after that,” Keir said. “They’re going to have no more information from the state, in my opinion, by the March date than they had in February. The state’s not going to have it released by then either.”

Furthermore, Bernardston Selectboard members wondered if the four selectboards even have the authority to grant the request. The regional agreement states amendments must be approved by the majority of the member towns at annual or special town meetings, but does not mention one-time exceptions.

Considering the regional agreement

Acknowledging that writing a letter in response wouldn’t make a difference in the School Committee’s decisions, Bernardston’s Selectboard decided to write back, stating, “We’re very disappointed in the way the Pioneer Valley Regional School District conducts (its) budget process, and we feel that they should hold to the regional agreement just like they want us to stick to the regional agreement,” Garland said.

While the district’s deadline to submit its budget is March 31, the regional agreement also states the budget must be finalized 45 days before the first annual town meeting in the four towns. But there’s no penalty outlined for not meeting the deadline.

Past violation

Pioneer has violated the regional agreement before, with an election cycle mix-up in 2016. At the time, Christine Lynch, a state consultant who oversees regional agreements, said violations to regional agreements are local issues and should be worked out among the involved towns.

The deadline request got the Bernardston Selectboard thinking about what should become of the regional agreement.

“I really think what we should consider is asking all four selectboards if they would put an article on every town warrant asking them to vote on whether we can open the district agreement for PVRS,” Bernardston Selectman Robert Raymond said.

Garland suggested going further, proposing to ask voters if they would allow the selectboards to make changes to the agreement.

“It doesn’t seem like any other committee is going to get anything done with it,” he said.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257