Pioneer Valley schools look to state for guidance

Recorder Staff
Friday, June 01, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Rather than scramble to make large-scale budget cuts, the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee has sought assistance from lawmakers and state and private agencies.

On June 7, the School Committee will meet with representatives from the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Department of Revenue to take guidance on making cuts from the coming school year’s budget. Committee members have also consulted with the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools, a private association of districts like Pioneer that are regional rather than local.

“Too many people (on the committee) don’t know the right answers,” said School Committee Chairwoman Pat Shearer.

At a May 17 meeting, after learning the district would be at a deficit of roughly $1 million by the end of July, the School Committee voted unanimously to seek financial advice, and possibly oversight, from state agencies.

The committee also instructed district administrators to formulate a list of cuts from next year’s budget, to total at least $400,000. The committee reviewed those options at its May 24 meeting, then planned to make cuts on May 30. That meeting had to be canceled, however, because notice had not been posted at least 48 hours beforehand as Open Meeting laws require.

This brought the committee up against the June deadline for notifying teachers of whether their contracts would be renewed, but on Thursday the Pioneer Valley Regional Education Association (the teachers union) decided to extend that deadline to June 8, said union president Ariel Lareau.

Superintendent Ruth Miller, however, is sticking to the June 1 deadline, explaining she wants to give teachers as much advanced notice as possible if the district cannot guarantee that their contracts will be renewed. Miller said that “very few” pink slips will be given out today (June 1).

“It’s not going to be what I think people may have been hearing at School Committee meetings,” Miller said. “It’s certainly not like we’re going have a mad rush of getting rid of teachers.”

The School Committee’s other deadlines might be slackened too. State Reps. Paul Mark and Susannah Whipps are working on a bill that would allow the district to spend at a deficit while it works to address its root financial problems. The amount of time that this legislation would give the district is not clear yet, Shearer said.

In the meantime, the Department of Revenue will provide financial guidance while the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ensures that the standards of Massachusetts and of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District are maintained.

“We need to be sure that what we cut is going to keep our district educationally sound,” Shearer said.