$14M Pioneer budget approved

  • During a Special Town Meeting at Bernardston Elementary School Monday night, Bernardston approved its portion of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget for the 2019 to 2020 school year, effectively approving the overall budget for the district. STAFF PHOTO/ZACK DeLUCA

Staff Writer
Published: 8/20/2019 5:28:07 PM

BERNARDSTON — The Pioneer Valley Regional School District’s budget for 2019 to 2020 school year has effectively been approved, following an affirmative vote by 19 Bernardston Special Town Meeting voters on Monday.

Bernardston is the third of the four towns in the Pioneer school district to pass the budget. Those in attendance at the meeting, held at Bernardston Elementary School, unanimously approved the budget, which was recommended by the Selectboard and Finance Committee.

Of the total $14,154,316 budget, $9,239,616 will be assessed to the member towns. To fully fund Bernardston’s share ($2,969,574), residents voted to raise and appropriate an additional $13,619.25 and transfer $8,355.15 from the Bernardston Elementary School communications account.

The total budget represents a 0.5 percent decrease from last year. However, the increase in assessments to towns landed at 0.37 percent, increasing from $9,205,774 in fiscal year 2019.

According to Pioneer Finance Director Tanya Gaylord, the reason the assessments to the towns increased while the overall budget decreased is due to a drop in state funding sources and tuition revenues.

“It’s going to cost us $13,619.25 more than what we voted on at the regular meeting,” Selectboard Chairman Robert Raymond explained to voters during Bernardston’s Special Town Meeting. “We’re trying to support the schools. ... This is the budget and we need to get going.”

Raymond explained that the town installed a new sound system in the school last year, and the cost of the project came in under the estimated price by approximately $8,300. This is the money the town will transfer from the school communications fund.

Since Annual Town Meeting, when the initial budget proposal was rejected, Raymond said the School Committee was able to cut approximately $70,650. Selectman Brian Keir explained that the cut impacted the teacher line item of the budget, but was not the result of cutting teachers. The savings came following a previous decision to remove kindergarten and preschool programs at Warwick Community School.

Following the closure of Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School, many Leyden students will attend Bernardston Elementary this year.

“We are now going to be the largest school in the district,” Keir said, though neither the Selectboard or Finance Committee had final enrollment numbers as of Monday’s meeting. “The school should be funded appropriately.”

After all four towns rejected the proposed school budget in June, the state Department of Education imposed a “one-twelfth budget” on the district. This budget operated on a month-by-month basis, calculated as one-twelfth of the previous year’s expenses.

Passage of the school budget required Town Meeting approval from at least three of the four member towns. Both Leyden and Northfield approved their new budget portions last month. Warwick held a “no vote” on the budget, and will accept the budget by default following majority approval.

Now that the district has approved the budget, Gaylord said the district can move forward with preparing for the upcoming year, crafting a spending plan free from the one-twelfth budget. In addition to operating as normal for the finance department, Gaylord said having an approved budget heading into the school year will provide a boost in moral for staff.

Other business

In addition to approving the Pioneer budget, the town approved transferring money from the Vehicle Stabilization Fund for the purchase of a new vehicle for the Bernardston Police Department. Voters approved an amount not to exceed $47,000.

Selectman Stanley Garland said the town has been looking into getting a new vehicle since an engine blew on an old police cruiser. Police Chief James Palmeri said the department looked into repairs, but due to the estimat ed cost and age of the cruiser, a new vehicle is the best option.

The town is also looking to fill volunteer positions, Town Clerk Paul Luther said. A position is open on the Finance Committee and there are also two vacant positions on the regional school district planning committee.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.

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