Ways and Means Committee pitches more money for Greenfield schools

  • Precinct 5 Greenfield City Councilor Tim Dolan lobbied to add an additional $758,000 to the public schools budget at Thursday night’s Ways and Means Committee meeting. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2019 10:44:14 PM
Modified: 5/16/2019 10:44:03 PM

GREENFIELD — Precinct 5 Councilor Tim Dolan lobbied to add an additional $758,000 to the public schools budget. If approved by the full council next week, it could raise taxes by about 85 cents from this year’s rate, which would be roughly 49 cents more than what the mayor has proposed.

While his two fellow councilors were offering to add $500,000 to the tax levy and use an expected $258,000 from Chapter 70 state education funding to help plug a $1.3 million shortfall between the schools and the mayor’s budget, Dolan pivoted.

“This is a philosophical issue,” Dolan said at Thursday night’s Ways and Means Committee meeting, which marked the final meeting to debate the budget ahead of the May 22 budget vote.

A two-thirds vote of the City Council is needed to approve any increase over the mayor’s budget, which he proposed at $51.3 million with $18.6 million for the schools.

With Precinct 9 Councilor Dan Leonovich resigning this week for family reasons, it will take eight of the 12 councilors to approve any increase in the budget.

Dolan, a librarian at Greenfield Community College and a union member there, said he wanted to make sure that increases in Chapter 70 funding are used as additions to the budget.

Massachusetts Teachers Association “activists did not fight so hard” for the increased educational funding to be patched into the base budget. “This is what that money is meant to do,” Dolan said.

The additional Chapter 70 funding was announced by Mayor William Martin this week. It is still in the legislative process and the governor’s budget could include more than the $258,000.

“There’s still a lot of chatter and discussion on funding some of these educational expenses,” Martin said at the meeting.

Ways and Means Chairman Otis Wheeler had initially proposed to the committee — which was short of Precinct 3 Councilor Brickett Allis and At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass — a $500,000 increase to the Greenfield Public Schools, and inherently, the city’s budget.

“I got to that because the number is a million and I took half of that,” Wheeler said. “It’s a place to start the discussion.”

Wheeler’s proposal assumed the schools could count on the $258,000 of Chapter 70 funding; Dolan’s proposal would use that money as additional.

In Wheeler’s proposal, the schools could pick up nearly all of the remaining $500,000 in shortfall from revolving funds. The mayor’s office proposed this week that the Greenfield School Committee could comfortably use $400,000 of its revolving funds, which replenish regularly, to help fund its spending plan.

“It’s not an ideal budget, but I hope it’s a fair one,” Wheeler said.

Superintendent Jordana Harper and then the School Committee approved a roughly $20 million budget.

In the mayor’s proposed budget, he allocated $18.6 million to the schools, which is what the city initially agreed to spend on the public schools last year. (The council later gave the schools about $400,000, which the mayor says came without a revenue source.)

Since the mayor’s budget, wide public comment has argued for the council to close the $1.3 million gap.

Harper gave an impassioned speech when she went before Ways and Means last month. She read of all of the cuts she believed would occur as a byproduct of the mayor’s budget.

At Wednesday night’s council meeting, where the lead topic was the library, a major point of public comment focused on the school budget.

Some parents said they would remove their children from the school system if these cuts occurred.

Newton Elementary School Principal Melodie Goodwin gave a speech that led to a round of applause from the nearly all of the hundred people that came to the meeting.

“The past couple nights I haven’t slept because there are crying teachers in my office everyday,” Goodwin said. “You are going to lose the best thing you have in this town.”

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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