LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — School officials expect to present a budget to the town by the end of the month.
The budgets for Lanesborough Elementary School and Mount Greylock Regional School will look very different when it goes to town meeting this year. With the merger, there is a significant amount of shifting of cost centers. Most notably, health insurance will shift out of the town's budget and into the school district's budget.
"There are some shifts of costs from the town's budget to the school's budget and vice versa," said Transition Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron.
The numerous accounts have made the budgeting process more difficult this year than in year's past. But interim Superintendent Kimberly Grady said a budget will be ready for March 20.
"We're building this budget from the ground up," Grady told Lanesborough officials on Monday. Later adding, "We're close but I'm not ready to hand out numbers."
One notable holdup in finalizing numbers is uncertainty around New Ashford. Last year, the Lanesborough School Committee voted to significantly raise tuition levels at the elementary school. And now, school officials say there is a chance New Ashford opts not to accept a tuition agreement and instead may send the nine children affected to Hancock Elementary or Richmond Consolidated School.
"With the outlier of that New Ashford situation, I need that to determine what else we can potentially reduce," Grady said.
If New Ashford opts out of sending students to Lanesborough Elementary, that would lead to more than $100,000 in lost revenue to fund the school. Grady said she hasn't added any revenue for tuition into her early budgets until she gets a confirmation that those students will attend.
Finance Committee Chairman Ray Jones, however, doesn't expect there to be a problem. New Ashford is expected to vote on the agreement and Jones believes the students will continue to be part of the Lanesborough School community.
"They are going to be there, no matter what. They aren't going to leave Lanesborough," Jones said.
While Jones is confident the students will stay, Grady isn't so sure. Towns without their own school must sign tuition agreements. Right now, the district has presented Hancock and New Ashford agreements for the middle and high school and New Ashford a separate agreement for the elementary school.
Jones believes that if the students don't attend the district's elementary school, then they should not be allowed at the high school either. But Grady said if New Ashford opts completely out, a very significant amount of revenue would come out of Mount Greylock's budget.
Jones has been one of the most vocal about the tuition rate. He believes the town has been subsidizing the New Ashford students because the tuition rate did not equal the cost per pupil. The School Committee voted a policy to set tuition rates at the per-pupil cost set by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. That leads to about a $9,000 increase per student for New Ashford. That decision was upheld by the Transition Committee last week.
"It is about the children but it is the parent's responsibilities to pay for the education like we do in our town," Jones said.
While school officials met with the Finance Committee and Selectmen earlier this year than in years prior, town officials are anxious to get a solid number from the school district.
"We are having trouble building our budget because we rely so much on the school's input," Finance Committee member Ron Tinkham said.
At the same time, the town's assessment for McCann Technical School is increasing by $60,000 because of three additional students going there this year. However, that will not conversely lower the assessment for Mount Greylock, where the students are presumed to have gone otherwise. Cost appropriations at Mount Greylock are set on a five-year rolling average, so three students in one year won't make a major change.
"It is not going to reduce your assessment by $60,000," Grady said.
Town Manager Paul Sieloff has been particularly concerned with the costs of the three schools Lanesborough students attend. He said he requested McCann to look for efficiencies in its budget to help mitigate the increase.
In a bigger picture, Sieloff said reducing the number of school districts in the area would be a particular benefit for budgeting. He said his graduating class was larger than the entire Mount Greylock district and schools like McCann could benefit from joining Adams or North Adams.
"The concern is that there is just too many small school districts," Sieloff said.
Sieloff is trying to build a budget that keeps the tax rate increase at 1.5 percent.
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