Pioneer School Committee reduces FY21 budget by $533K

  • Pioneer Valley Regional School. Staff Photo/Zack DeLuca

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2020 6:13:08 PM

NORTHFIELD — After multiple meetings with continued discussion, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District School Committee approved what Financial Overseer Rick Kingsley says is among the largest school budget reductions in the state.

According to Director of Finance Tanya Gaylord, the amended fiscal year 2021 budget of $14,356,900 is $532,930 less than the original version that was approved in February, and is $182,165 less than the current fiscal year’s budget. The School Committee approved the amended budget in a vote of 7 to 5 on May 27.

“Compared to FY20, the (town) assessments are decreasing by $397,697,” Gaylord said. “The original FY21 assessments were only a slight increase over FY20 by $67,022.”

The final budget figures came after continued conversations between members of the full School Committee, Budget Subcommittee, administration and Kingsley. A May 19 Budget Subcommittee meeting saw Chair Mike Townsley and other members request the administration further reduce the budget.

Among other approved changes, the new cuts include decreasing long-term substitute expenses from $40,000 to $20,000, and a reduction of $30,000 in facilities costs that will be achieved through a lower fuel rate.

Despite feeling like it is a needed position, Gaylord said the School Committee approved cutting a special needs inclusion specialist, as well as a special needs instructional assistant because the positions weren’t filled and eliminating them would prevent further cuts to current staff.

“It’s being considered a savings because it’s not a person that’s currently in a position, or has been filled at this current time,” Gaylord said.

However, the school adjustment counselor, a position filled by Erica Masson, was cut as part of the slimmed-down budget approved on May 27, despite School Committee members and district families having voiced concern over removing Masson’s position for several months.

School Committee member Jeanne Milton, of Bernardston, said counseling services will be needed more than ever as students may struggle with social and emotional issues when returning to school after months of social isolation. Gaylord said the administration originally proposed reducing the adjustment counselor position to part-time, but this became a full cut after the Budget Subcommittee requested further reductions.

The computer applications teacher, Skip Zalneraitis, was decreased to a part-time position. Gaylord said Zalneraitis teaches seventh and eighth grade, as well as runs some of the virtual high school classes. During a previous School Committee meeting, Pioneer Valley Regional Education Association representative Claire Brennan read a letter from middle school staff members urging the committee not to approve reducing Zalneraitis’ position.

“We believe the work he has done with our students is integral, and the technology skills they learn in his classes are immediately transferable to each of the four core classes,” Brennan read from the letter. “In light of our current remote learning situation, it seems counterintuitive that the district would choose to take away a faculty member who has the technology knowledge and skills to help us be more successful in this new teaching and learning platform we are expected to function in.”

Dean of Students Cathy Hawkins-Harrison previously said cutting additional money from the budget felt like the school district had “gone into the bone.” On May 27, School Committee member Patricia Shearer referred to Kingsley’s statement that Pioneer’s budget cuts were among the largest in the state.

“I’m not sure that’s anything to be proud of ... as an educator or as a body who is guiding the education of our kids,” Shearer said.

Superintendent Jonathan Scagel said the district is trying to maintain equitable education and programs across its schools, and the budget reductions represent the district’s effort to help its four member towns, as the financial impact of the COVID-19 crisis is expected to last for two or three years.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at or 413-930-4579.

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