Pioneer’s proposed $16.9M budget heads to Annual Town Meetings

From left, Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee members Melissa Gerry, Silvia Cummings and Stephen Martin at the Feb. 15 meeting, where the committee approved the fiscal year 2025 budget.

From left, Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee members Melissa Gerry, Silvia Cummings and Stephen Martin at the Feb. 15 meeting, where the committee approved the fiscal year 2025 budget. SCREENSHOT/BERNARDSTON NORTHFIELD COMMUNITY TELEVISION

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-20-2024 1:30 PM

NORTHFIELD — After a brief discussion about administrator pay, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee approved a $16.94 million budget for fiscal year 2025 last week, thus sending it to the towns for approval at Annual Town Meetings.

Administrators said the budget, which is about a 0.72%, or $120,400, increase from the current year’s will allow the district to make investments into students and education and continue many of the initiatives that have started in the school over the last few years, such as the woodshop and environmental educator, according to Director of Finance and Operations Jordan Burns.

The budget was presented at a Feb. 8 hearing, where discussions focused on administrator pay for the second straight year. On Thursday, the committee briefly discussed the topic again, as School Committee member Silvia Cummings said some of the increases in pay — including for the superintendent and director of finance and operations — jumped out to her.

“What I see when I look at all the numbers on all of these pages, the salaries, in my opinion, are very comfortable and there’s a lot of salaries that are struggling,” Cummings said. “But we want to make the people that are already comfortable even more comfortable, when we have struggling educators. … That’s what I see when I look at these numbers.”

Burns said the line item increases represent the negotiated contracts for each of these positions, which are meant to try to keep up with inflation, as well as similar positions in other districts around the region.

“In a dollar amount, it may seem like that’s a lot more money, but salaries generally grow on percentages because if your salary grows significantly, for example, less than inflation, you’re really taking a pay cut,” Burns said. “We’re all cognizant of the appearance of things, but I think to maintain stability and have a sound budgeting practice, you need to assume people will generally, at least, get the rate of inflation.”

At face value, Burns said his position’s pay “looks large,” but these are negotiated increases, which the School Committee could choose to vote down, and trying to keep up with his counterparts in the Pioneer Valley will ensure he — or any other central office position — sticks with the district.

Burns’ salary is increasing by 21.74%, or $25,000, in the proposed FY25 budget to a total of $140,000. However, he noted at the public hearing this raise was because he did not take pay increases in the first years of his contract. In FY23, he earned $125,000 and in FY24, he earned less, with the final line item coming out to $115,000.

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“I am not in any way uniquely talented. There’s other people who are just as good, there’s lots of people who are better, but I do think I’m competent and I think if you’re competent you should be paid similarly to other people in the area who do the job,” Burns said. “Right now, I’m not; I’m paid less. … I don’t know how many other people would do the job at the current salary at this school.”

Other positions, Burns said, including the director of teaching and learning and director of student services, have what appear to be large percentage increases, but the reality is the district did not hire those positions until the previous year’s budget was already set. For example, the director of teaching and learning’s FY24 salary was set at $105,000, but Kate Messmer and the district agreed on $110,000, meaning the FY25 line item of $115,000 is actually only a $5,000 increase.

Despite this, Burns emphasized that teacher pay is still extremely important and the Pioneer Valley Regional Education Association (PVREA) received its highest cost-of-living adjustment ever.

“And it’s not enough,” Burns said, “we’re all in agreement there.”

With the discussion wrapped up, the School Committee approved the budget.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.