Pioneer subcommittee hopes to push back budget hearing

  • Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline

Recorder Staff
Saturday, January 20, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Having gotten off to a particularly slow start in the budget process this year, the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget subcommittee hopes to push back the annual budget hearing until March 8.

However, because the regional agreement requires the district adopt a budget by Feb. 15, the subcommittee intends to ask the selectboards in Leyden, Bernardston, Northfield and Warwick, by letter, for an extra month of time.

Pushing the budget hearing back was discussed during Thursday’s meeting, the second budget subcommittee meeting of this budget season where there was not enough financial information. The subcommittee was presented only with current fiscal year figures rather than projections for FY19, and unclear facility budgets for the five schools.

By comparison, budget meetings were underway in December of 2016 to prepare the current fiscal year’s budget.

Last year’s budget hearing was rescheduled multiple times due to weather, finally being held on March 2. Given pushback from residents at the hearing, the School Committee was forced to reconsider its proposed increases, and was not able to approve its approximately $14.2 million budget until March 7.

The inexplicable delay in planning distressed community members.

“This process should be well in place, going on, in December as in years past,” said Frank Ribeiro, past chairman of the Bernardston Finance Committee.

Looking at the presented documents, Ribeiro admitted he felt sorry for the budget subcommittee for the little information it had available.

“This is, I’ve gotta say, kind of pathetic,” he said. “This is sad, and I think it reflects on what’s been talked about as far as this administration. Hopefully we’ll never get into this mess again.”

Superintendent Ruth Miller was not present at the meeting, which budget subcommittee Chairman David Young said was because of illness. However, her absence created confusion among the subcommittee.

“I can’t make heads or tails of this,” subcommittee member Jim Bell said while looking at the documents. “We need more of an explanation is what we need.”

“We’re second-guessing and nobody knows what’s going on,” subcommittee member Patricia Shearer agreed.

Given the lack of information, members thought it necessary to push back the budget hearing if possible.

“We aren’t ready to finalize a budget,” subcommittee member Peggy Kaeppel said. “It’s the 18th of January!”

“It’s not a permanent thing,” Young said of moving the deadline. “It’s just a this year thing.”

Pioneer has violated the regional agreement before, involving an election cycle mix-up in 2016. At the time, Christine Lynch, a consultant with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who oversees regional agreements, said violations to regional agreements are local issues and should be worked out among the involved towns.

However, Young also hoped there could be a pre-hearing this year so the budget subcommittee could use public comments and suggestions to frame the budget process. The budget pre-hearing is scheduled for Feb. 8 at 7 p.m.

Following a full School Committee meeting next Thursday at 7 p.m. at Pioneer, the next budget subcommittee meeting will be held on Jan. 30.