The Adams Cheshire Regional School Committee held the first of three budget workshops on Wednesday.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — After depleting the reserve accounts to pay for the 2013 budget, Adams-Cheshire Regional School District officials are faced with cutting nine positions.
he School Committee on Wednesday held the first of three budget hearings to debate an $18.1 million budget. The budget presentation is available below.
Superintendent Kristen Gordon said unfunded mandates and increases in transportation, health care and other contractual costs have risen while revenues have declined.
When school officials started to craft the 2014 budget, they were far from level-funding programming.
"We started this budget process in the negative before we even added a thing with the exception of a curriculum director, which the district is in desperate need of. We quickly removed the position and we were still in the negative of close to $1 million," Gordon said.
Business Administrator David Hinkell called that proposal "totally unacceptable" and said it increased assessment to Adams by 25 percent and Cheshire by 16 percent. Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed budget calls for an increase in Chapter 70 education funds and Berkshire Health Group said there would be no increases in employee health insurance. Those figures added to the decision not to replace a maintenance supervisor or hire a curriculum coordinator shrunk the gap by $508,000, Hinkell said.
The foundation budget was expected increase by 3.8 percent at that point in the process, but it still called for a 16.5 percent increase to Adams and a 9.3 percent increase to Cheshire — both which would trigger Proposition 2 1/2 overrides.
"The next thing we did was go through virtually every single account and we cut approximately $318,000 out of the budget. We brought the foundation budget down to a total of 1 percent increase and at that point in time, Adams was 10.7 percent increase and Cheshire was a 5.2 percent increase," Hinkell said. "We met with the towns again and it still required an override. So, we went back to the drawing board."
He went on to say "this time staffing was involved. We had no other place to cut." The administrators then cut eight positions — five professional positions, three paraprofessional positions. That final draft brought the budget under Proposition 2 1/2.
Business Administrator David Hinkell walked the School Committee through the process the administrators took to come up with the budget proposal.
"So it is now a .6 percent decrease in the foundation budget. However, it still requires a 5.3 percent increase for Adams and a 1.6 percent increase from Cheshire. The reason for that is because all of our other revenue have declined and we have no place else to go," Hinkell said.
According to Gordon, nearly all of the reserve accounts were depleted to pay for the current year's operating budget and the district now has nowhere else to pull revenue.
This budget also does not include any funds to replenish those accounts. The excess and deficiency account is troublesome for administrators who say they "don't sleep well with this budget" because of the risk it involves and that it doesn't help budgeting next year.
"It is going to be very, very tight. We've cut everything out trying to get below that 2 1/2 levy," Hinkell said, adding that next year's budget will already be a deficit of about $200,000 because there are no reserves.
Other revenues that decreased include tuition from Savoy students, Medicaid reimbursement and food service assessment.
Overall, the budget is up by .6 percent but that includes higher payments for the building project, which voters already excluded from 2 1/2. Without the project considered, the budget is down by $65,024.
The Adams assessment will be $4,715,484, which includes $239,489 for the debt-excluded building project. Cheshire will be $2,305,224, including $95,254 for the building project.
Gordon said the budgets aren't getting better and the district needs to focus on long-term solutions. She said she is lobbying state legislators to increase transportation reimbursement and adjust the way charter schools are funded. She's created a marketing plan to help increase enrollment, expanded course offerings to keep students from transferring out and worked with the towns to create a new strategic plan.
"Each year we held out hope that things will get better next year. But the hard truth is that there is a new fiscal reality that cannot be ignored," Gordon said. "Another hard truth is that the needs of students have changed dramatically over the years and we are not seeing the achievement results that all of our children deserve."
Gordon said it is "fiscally irresponsible" not to reduce the cost per pupil but also "ethically irresponsible" not to address the student's needs.
The School Committee will continue workshop meetings on the budget before presenting a final draft to the Boards of Selectmen for approval. The next two budget meetings are scheduled for Monday and Wednesday.
Adams Cheshire Regional Budget Presentation 2014 by iBerkshires.com