With extra $1.18M from City Council, Greenfield schools scale back cuts to staff, programs

  • Greenfield Middle School on Federal Street. Staff File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2023 7:26:24 PM

GREENFIELD — The School Committee voted Wednesday to accept the School Department’s revised fiscal year 2024 budget of nearly $22.79 million, with extra funding allocated by City Council effectively restoring the Strings for Kids music program, middle school athletics and multiple staff positions.

Specifically, the positions of Section 504 coordinator, a staff member that helps children with special needs to fully participate in school, and a new first grade teacher were retained. However, under the new budget, the School Department will cut a history teacher position and, perhaps most controversially, the middle school Spanish teacher.

“We have all said very clearly that no one wants to make any of the cuts we’re making here,” School Committee Chair Amy Proietti said Wednesday night, referring to Superintendent Christine DeBarge’s revised budget, which still includes transportation reductions. “No one wants to be responsible for those decisions. These are hard things. These are things all of us have thought about a great deal.”

The revised budget DeBarge presented Wednesday night also shifts roughly $1 million in salaries back to the local budget, freeing up Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funding for curriculum supplies, as well as maintenance and field trip costs.

The discussion between School Committee members this week followed City Council’s vote in May to reallocate roughly $1.18 million to the School Department budget, bringing the total Greenfield schools budget line to nearly $22.79 million, compared to the superintendent’s initial $23.15 million request, which represented a 10.35% raise over the current fiscal year.

TMS President Andy Paquette, the School Department’s business manager, said the reallocation constitutes an 8.6% raise over the fiscal year 2023 budget, compared to the 3% raise afforded to it following Mayor Roxann Wedegartner’s $1.5 million cut to DeBarge’s original proposal.

DeBarge said when the budget was modified to represent an 8.6% increase, administrators worked with Paquette to find ways they could use the ESSER grant that would allow them to move as many salaries as possible back into the local budget. Their goal was to ensure as many positions as possible would remain stable past the expiration of the ESSER grant next year.

While using ESSER funding to cover materials and supplies is “wonderful for staff” in terms of minimizing the impact of the fiscal year 2025 funding cliff, she noted it presents challenges for materials in fiscal year 2024.

“None of the budget reductions are recommendations,” DeBarge emphasized to committee members. “I cannot say I won’t offer ways to offer a balanced budget. I would be negligent in my job.”

Among the most debated cuts was to the middle school Spanish teacher position, with some committee members expressing concern that the loss of this position would make Greenfield less competitive when compared to other school districts.

“I think families in this area have other options for their student to receive foreign language much earlier,” said committee Vice Chair Kate Martini. “We’re not going to be competitive if we’re not offering foreign language instruction until eighth grade.”

Member Elizabeth Deneeve also objected to cutting the position, arguing that her immersive experience at a young age learning Spanish encouraged her to travel the world. She considered the possibility of cutting middle school athletics instead in an attempt to spare the Spanish teacher position.

“Only having [foreign language instruction] in high school would not have enabled me to do that,” she said, reflecting on her experience. “Younger children learn languages faster and more efficiently than older students.”

A motion to accept the budget with an avenue for preserving the Spanish teacher position and a secondary choral teacher failed to receive a majority vote of support. Members who voted against it cited concerns about delaying the purchase of aging textbooks until a fiscal year 2025 capital request.

After more than an hour of back and forth, the School Committee ultimately voted to accept the superintendent’s revised budget as it was presented. Deneeve and Martini were among the dissenting votes, with members Jean Wall, Susan Eckstrom, Glenn Johnson Mussad, Wedegartner and Proietti supporting the motion.

Prior to the vote, Proietti emphasized to committee members that the budget is not a “rigid document” but a dynamic one, acknowledging the reality of several variables to consider, namely the recent arrival of immigrants and refugees to the area whose children are entering the Greenfield school system.

“We are elected to be the stewards of these funds,” she said. “When we can, we need to protect all of the extracurriculars. I don’t want to judge music or athletics as one better than the other. … We, thankfully, right now have a really healthy relationship with City Council. Should we get in a bind where we need to ask for a supplemental budget because something has changed … we’d be able to do it.”

An earlier version of this story did not include the name of one of the committee members who voted. Member Glenn  Johnson Mussad voted in favor of accepting the superintendent’s revised budget as presented.

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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