Committee proposes new budget to towns

  • A vote on closing Warwick Community School is planned for the Pioneer School Committee’s Thursday meeting. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2019 5:55:21 PM

NORTHFIELD — The Pioneer Valley Regional School District plans to propose a $14,224,966 budget to its four member towns in special town meetings in June. The number will not have to change if the School Committee closes Warwick Community School at its meeting this Thursday.

Town selectboards and finance committees agreed that, rather than vote on the schools’ 2019-2020 budget in their regularly scheduled town meetings, they recommend that their voters skip it, and revisit it at special town meetings, tentatively scheduled June 17.

Of the four towns, Northfield, Bernardston and Warwick all had their town meetings last week. All three either passed over or rejected the school budget, as planned. Leyden’s town meeting is Saturday at 9 a.m.

The reason for the delay was the School Committee’s decision in March to close Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School. Because of time constraints, the School Committee had to give the towns a budget before it could vote on closing Pearl Rhodes. After the decision to close the school, the committee needed time to evaluate what the district’s needs would be with one less elementary school. The closure also had to be approved by the state Department of Education, which has since happened.

The revised budget proposal of $14,224,966 calls for a 1.14-percent increase to the towns’ costs over this year’s. This is a decrease of about $50,000 from the previously proposed budget, which would have needed a 1.65-percent increase to the towns’ costs.

Pioneer Superintendent Jon Scagel emphasized that the budget doesn’t cut any teachers or curricular or extra-curricular programs; it restores the elementary schools’ music programs, improves the district’s technology resources and adds collaborative courses with Greenfield Community College. And, he added, the requested increase is the lowest in Western Massachusetts this year, and the lowest ever in Pioneer.

“I don’t think we could’ve done any better,” Scagel said.

The School Committee now plans to revisit its decision not to close Warwick Community School. If the school is closed, almost all of the estimated $202,000 in savings would be used to decrease the towns’ costs further, Budget Subcommittee Chairman Mike Townsley said.

About $28,000 of the money would be given directly to Warwick to defray maintenance costs on the empty school building, Townsley said.

If Warwick’s school does close, the School Committee will have to continue to revise the budget in September, when it will know how many of Warwick’s school choice students stay in the Pioneer district after the closure.

All in all, Townsley said that the Warwick school closure could bring the towns’ costs even lower than they were this year; perhaps finally achieving the “zero increase” budget the towns’ finance committees requested earlier this year.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ex 261.




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