Bill filed for Pioneer to spend at deficit

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. ANDY CASTILLO

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

NORTHFIELD — A bill by state representatives Paul Mark (D-Peru) and Susannah Whipps (I-Athol) to allow the Pioneer Regional School District to spend at a deficit was filed in the state legislature on Tuesday, state officials told the School Committee at its meeting Tuesday night.

The bill, if passed, will allow the School Committee to pass a new budget that would include borrowed money. The budget that the committee approved in March, of $14,077,538, is at least $400,000 short of what the district will need to operate for the coming school year.

Last week, the committee voted to take a loan of $450,000. The alternative would have been to ask the towns for more money, which would have required an override of the Proposition 2½ restriction against increasing tax rates by more than 2½ percent per year.

“That’s very difficult,” said Mary Jane Handy, director of accounts at the state’s Department of Revenue. “It’s hard enough to get an override when there is a brand new school being built or a brand new facility.”

“We are probably going to deficit spend in (fiscal year) ‘19,” Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Associate Commissioner Jay Sullivan said. “It is what it is. Unless the School Committee feels that they can live within that 14.077 (million).”

But at the School Committee’s meetings last week and on Tuesday, committee members insisted there is nothing more that can be cut.

The bill would also suspend the part of the district agreement requiring each town to have its own elementary school. This would allow the district to close a school if deemed necessary to do so. School Committee members Peggy Kaeppel and Sharon Fontaine, both from Leyden, have supported closing Pearl Rhodes Elementary School on the grounds that Leyden’s school is too expensive to operate and that the students would be better served in larger classes and better facilities.

“It’s the parents that resist the change,” Kaeppel said. “Those kids, if they go to Bernardston, in a few days they’re going to come skipping home: ‘I’ve got a new best friend, I’ve got a gym’ — which Leyden doesn’t have.”

Sullivan urged the school board to make residents aware of how little can be funded with the current budget.

“You need to convince your stakeholders of what it would take to run the budget at $14,077,538,” Sullivan said. “What impact would that have on key positions? What impact would that have on other positions? They need to be aware of that.”