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The School Committee held a public hearing on the budget Thursday night.

Lanesborough Tells Mount Greylock To Cut Budget Proposal

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Town officials were not happy with the school's proposed budget, which calls for a 4 percent increase in assessment to the town.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — There is no way town officials will support a 4 percent increase in assessments from the Mount Greylock Regional School District.

The Mount Greylock School Committee's proposed budget calls for a 4 percent increase to the town of Lanesborough and 4.6 percent increase to Williamstown.

The change translates to $102,727 more from Lanesborough and $213,957 from Williamstown.

"We won't put forth a 4 percent increase to the voters. I don't know where it will be, but it won't be 4 percent," said Finance Committee member Bill Stevens at Thursday's public hearing at Lanesborough Elementary School.

After hearing their concerns, the School Committee verbally agreed to find a way to bring the increase down to 2.5 percent either through cuts or a possible increase in state aid.

"There is no choice. We have to cut the cost," said Board of Selectmen Chairman John Goerlach. "We have residents who are moving out because they can't afford to stay."

Greylock's proposed budget is $10.5 million reflecting an increase of $37,000 or .35 percent. However, in recent years, reserve accounts have been used to lower the towns' assessments. In 2012, the assessment decreased by 1 percent; 2013, it went up .47 percent; and last year there was a 1.3 percent increase.

"We do not have the kind of revenues or savings that we had in previous years and that is why you are seeing a higher assessment," said Mount Greylock School Committee Chairwoman Carrie Greene.

This year, Greene said the school is using the rest of its reserves to fund the budget but that is still $289,376 less than allocated last year.

Meanwhile, health insurance jumped 9.5 percent or $80,000; retiree insurance is up $40,000; utilities are up $8,000; a new bus contract is up $14,000; the school choice tuition sending rate increased $26,000 and charter school tuition rates were raised, costing the school $88,000 more than last year.

But the increase causing the most consternation is a newly agreed teachers' contract that raised the budget by $200,000, or 2 percent.

Police Chief Mark Bashara said he has been unable to give his officers any raises for last three years. In the same period, teachers have continued to get raises and now are getting a large bump, he said.

"I know that in our town, when times are tough, it is usually the town employees who are usually taking the hit so they can stay within the budget," Bashara said, who was among a few upset with the new agreement. "All town employees had made some serious sacrifices and not voluntarily."

He said it is time for the school to do the same. School officials said the increase in salaries was coupled with the restructuring of the salary grid, which they say will save the town much more in the long run. That was negotiated prior to the School Committee seeing the health insurance and charter school increases.

"We got a good deal in the new contract. This number is less than we would have had to pay if we had just rolled over the last contract," said School Committee member David Langston.

Nonetheless, according to Town Administrator Paul Sieloff, a 4 percent total increase in the town's assessment, coupled with a 4 percent increase in the elementary school budget, will force the town to make even more sacrifices. With those two increases, if the town raises the budget to the full 2.5 percent allowed by law, he will need to cut $30,000.

"That means we are giving every penny of 2.5 percent and taking 30,000 from other departments," he said. "I think the school needs to come in as close to 1 percent as possible."

Superintendent Rose Ellis said the school's education has greatly improved in the last four years while town assessments have not increased. This year, there aren't enough revenues to keep assessments low.

The early draft of the elementary school's budget calls for a 3.46 percent increase. In total that budget is eyed to be at $2.7 million — an increase of $87,295. The current Mount Greylock budget calls for the town to pay a total of $2.6 million.

Meanwhile Mount Greylock is asking the town to vote an additional $90,000 for a feasibility study for a new school.

"We're still in a recession. We can't afford this budget. You are going to ask us for another $90,000 for a study. It doesn't grow on trees," Goerlach said.

Sieloff said while the school is important, so is the $500,000 fire truck the town wants to buy to replace a 30-year-old one. Sieloff had hoped to craft a budget that included some capital repairs as he sets to dig into a long list of town needs.

But with this, Bashara's police station won't even receive new shingles at a $14,000 cost, according to Goerlach.

Mount Greylock officials said they did everything they could to cut the budget to the bone. Greene said they are paying a minimum payment on the locker room bond and using the difference to help offset the town's assessments. The took all remaining funds in professional development and technology out and are using only a Williams College grant to pay for all of that.

"There were a lot of shocks. Health care costs going up, the bus contract, those were shocks," Langston said of the increases.

Charter school tuition rates rose by about $5,000 per student and the school will have a total of 16 students (two more than last year) attending them — adding $88,000 more to the budget.

Revenues, at the same time, have remained stable. The school based its budget on projected state aid in the governor's budget, which level-funds aid. The House of Representatives and the Senate will both now tackle the budget and school officials are hopeful that Chapter 70 or regional school transportation goes up.

The committee verbally agreed to getting that assessment down and the hope is that more funds come from the state. Otherwise, they have a plan for cuts to reduce the cost to Lanesborough and Williamstown.  

Greene identified $100,000 in cuts the school could make. Those include $30,000 by eliminating the two late bus routes; $9,000 by eliminating the alpine skiing program; $10,000 by cutting assistant coaches and another $52,000 will come out of staffing to hit that 2.5 percent target.

"I think you've heard a commitment from this table to get to 2.5 percent," Greene said.

The 2.5 percent isn't the 1 percent Sieloff hoped for but neither is it the 4 percent the school wants.

"It's tight and we know that. We really do keep that in the forefront of our conversations when looking at the budget," Greene said. "It's just a very difficult year."

Tags: fiscal 2015,   MGRHS,   school budget,   

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