School Committee Chairman David Archibald, left, and Superintendent William Travis listen to district residents' speak on the budget.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District's $10.1 million budget for 2011 will exacerbate Lanesborough's "quite dire" financial condition, town officials said Tuesday.
Lanesborough's assessment to the regional school district is expected to rise 11 percent next year, some $254,000, as the town's enrollment in the middle and high school has increased. At the same time, the small town's been cutting back and telling its own departments to level fund for the coming year.
Lanesborough Town Administrator Paul Boudreau and Finance Committee Chairman William Stevens urged the School Committee to consider the impact of the assessment at Tuesday's public hearing on the budget.
"It would require us to make some very significant cuts in various departments," Boudreau told the School Committee. "We've all got limited resources and we're trying to do our best in very hard times ... the situation in Lanesborough is quite dire."
Stevens said he was "a little bit incensed" to learn that the district would ask for a debt exclusion on its $50,000 annual payments on roof repairs, thereby taking the payment out of the operating budget but not off the table.
The town's struggling to get within the tax levy limit, he said. "Now, with the $248,000 from Greylock we're only $178,000 over the levy limit. Then I heard $248,000 — plus $16,000 for debt exclusion.
"Debt exclusion money is not free money," Stevens continued. "We've got to pay for it through our pockets ... I don't know where it's going to come from."
Several Williamstown residents defended the School Committee's oversight of the budget, which has been pared away over the past several years. "We're chipping away at our children's education," said Wendy Penner.
William Overstreet said the school district was trying to absorb some $500,000 in unanticipated costs in a tough budget year.
About 50 people attended the hearing at the high school but only a handful spoke.
"This has nothing to do with how good you are as budgeters at all," he said during the public hearing. "I think it's time for the Mount Greylock community to stand up and say this is what we've got to do — if we got to come up with the money we've got to come up with the money... the bottom line is the community has to step forward now, not next year, step forward now and pay what it takes."
Mount Greylock's been hit by cuts in state Chapter 70 funding and state transportation aid and increases in special education costs — particularly in residential placements. Over the past few weeks, the School Committee and administration identified nearly $600,000 in possible cuts, coming up with $278,000 that could be taken without affecting curriculum. Counting in the $50,000 payment on the roof, the budget is up 2.13 percent over this year.
"We are at rock bottom, with the sense that any further cuts will have an impact on the education of our children," said business manager Ellen Kaiser. "It hurt. I think we'll be able to maintain most of our programs ... but anymore will have a significant affect on this building."
School Committee Chairman David Archibald said he could empathize with Lanesborough's position.
"It's the way the agreement's structured," he said. "It's important that you know Lanesborough is not whining. They really got whacked by the budget two years in a row."
The committee approved a $10.1 million budget with updated figures that saw Lanesborough's assessment rise another $6,000. Williamstown's assessment is $4.62 million, up $201,448 from last year, plus $33,600 for its portion of the roof repair payment; Lanesborough's came to $2.55 million, plus $16,213 for the debt payment.
The numbers could change but the budget was approved for the Williamstown town meeting on May 18; Lanesborough's town meeting will be held a month later than usual. School Committee members expected to meet with the Lanesborough Selectmen and Finance Committee once more.
Both sides needed to work together to find solutions, said Williamstown Finance Committee Chairwoman Suzanne Dewey.
"I hate to see neighboring towns that care deeply about this school get into a district meeting situation which will bring ill will to the school and to one another."
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Perhaps one of the people defending the school committee and the towns could explain how this crisis is not a product of poor budgeting?
With the exception of the roof, almost everyone else has seen the downturn affecting revenues. The cut-backs on Chapter 70, etc... are not a surprise.
Sadly, I doubt the residents of either town, particularly Lanesboro, will be in any mood to dig deeper into their pockets. Good luck.
The budget people have done a terrific job. They have had to find a way to pay for about $1.2 million as MGRHS's share of the replacement boilers and the repair of the locker rooms. (Did you see the pictures of what happened when the ceilings collapsed in the locker rooms? People could have been killed.) The debt exclusion override for this capital (not operating) expense is expected to cost the median homeowner in Williamstown about $27 a year for 10 years starting in 2012. (I don't have the figures for Lansborough.) As for the operating budget, in 2010 and 2011 combined the state has reneged on about $300,000 it had committed to pay for regional transportation. MGRHS must pay this. School choice and charter spending will be up $112,000 for 2011. MGRHS has no choice--it must pay this. Special ed placements out of district for kids with severe problems is expect to rise by $306,000 in 2011. Again, MGRHS has no choice--it must pay this. Chapter 70 (state) aid will go down by over $100,000. The committee has cut math instruction by $33,000, social studies by $30,000, foreign langauges by $24,000, in-house SPED expenses by 150,000, guidance by $74,000, building and grounds by $65,000. It has also eliminated the senior project, saving $32,000. These are just some of the bigger items. Plus, the school is in the process of joining the Lanesborough Elementary and Williamstown Elementary school union, which will eliminate the separate post of MGRHS superintendent.
What the people who don't want to pay more need to realize is that there are costs that Mount Greylock is not paying. My daughter is not getting a free education, because 5 years ago Mount Greylock had already cut it's budget enough that they could not adequately deal with her mild learning disability (which is not language based, as most are). My husband and I decided that it would be better for her to go to private school, than to fail at Mount Greylock. I have had people tell me that I ought to sue the school disctrict to pay for her tuition, but I can see that the school discrict has no money to spare, so that won't happen. Mount Greylock has been cutting and cutting ever since proposition 2 1/2 passed in 1982. Here we are 28 years later, and there is no more extra stuff to cut out of the budget!