Greenfield School Committee sends 2021 budget to mayor as ‘starting point’

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2020 5:14:55 PM

GREENFIELD — The Greenfield School Committee voted to move forward with the proposed $21.4 million budget, sending it to the mayor’s office to be reviewed after a two-hour-long public hearing.

The roughly $2.1 million increase over this year’s budget of $19.3 million is “90 percent salaries and fixed costs,” Greenfield School Department Finance Director Steve Nembirkow said previously.

The proposed local contribution for fiscal year 2021, which is $5.2 million this year, is $6.9 million — an increase of $1.7 million.

According to a memo sent out by Greenfield Finance Director Liz Gilman, the School Committee needed to vote on the budget within 14 days of the hearing, and the School Committee’s approved budget was due to the mayor by March 10. School Committee Chair Amy Proietti said to stay on track with the financial timeline Gilman presented, the committee voted. She stated the budget should be considered a “starting point.”

“What I have heard from public comment and the very productive discussion from the public hearing, and in the superintendent overview and presentation, is that there are real concerns,” Proietti said. “This is a lot of money. We need to make sure we are making smart choices and we may need to make some hard choices as we move forward, but we’re going to do that in good faith with the team we have here and with the (Ways and Means) Subcommittee of the City Council and the mayor.”

Superintendent Jordana Harper explained the needs for next year’s budget are as follows: A teacher of the deaf, a Greenfield Middle School special education teacher and a Greenfield High School special education teacher — all of which will fulfill a special education requirement, according to Harper’s presentation.

A team chair, behaviorist, Greenfield High School health teacher and the Green River School alternative education program are also new needs for the district. An outdated curriculum is also being replaced in fiscal year 2021, according to Harper.

These new positions come to about $450,000, which money from the state is going to be used to pay for.

The School Department has increased spending by an average of 1.5 percent per year since fiscal year 2017. The city has increased spending by an average of 7 percent per year during the same period, according to Harper’s presentation.

The schools have also received more funding from the state through the Student Opportunities Act, but funding from that legislation will not be fully phased in until 2027, according to Harper.

Harper explained the School Department needs to look at being sustainable.

“One of the challenges is the funding model we use in Greenfield,” Harper said. “There’s a gap between where we are today and where we would be in a week if there were fully implemented contracts this year, and that number is around $400,000. But the real gap is next year’s budget. Next year’s budget is essentially the same amount as our operating budget now, but the gap is two years’ worth of funding from where it was to where it needs to go. The gap next year is close to $750,000.”

She said the issue is using one-time funds in the first year, which creates a funding cliff in the next year, and there should be changes made to make sure contracts are funded sustainably.

Harper added that increases have been included for the paraprofessionals’ contract — but what is not included in the proposed budget is the increase for the new contract for teachers (Unit A).

“That would have to continue from the contract stabilization fund and would have to find a new way, working with the city to address that,” Harper said. “In other words, there is a plan for them to step up to the next level but it’s still under the new contract, which needs to be renegotiated.”

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who is also a member of the School Committee, said she appreciated being part of the budget process.

“Fiscal (year) 2021 is challenging, and I want everyone to know this is an extremely challenging budget year for the schools and for the city of Greenfield,” Wedegartner said. “Nobody is going to get everything they need and nobody is going to get what they want. That’s just the way it is. We are all going to work harder to do better next year.”

Reach Melina Bourdeau at mbourdeau@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 263.


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