The School Committee met for two hours Friday morning to work toward finalizing the budget.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The School Committee is hoping to keep the fiscal 2015 budget within a 1 percent increase to the town.
The committee met on Friday morning to discuss the budget. Currently, the proposal has been knocked down through drafts from about 4 percent down to a 2.4 percent increase.
The latest draft calls for a total budget of $2,580,135 and the committee is looking to cut $30,000 more out of it.
However, at the same time, the board expressed a desire to add some $30,000 into the proposal to pave the parking lot and upgrade the HVAC system.
"I would like to be able to do those. But that would increase and get us further," Chairman Robert Barton said. "This is a 30,000 addition, which pushed us further from the 1 percent."
Barton initially said he would like to get the budget to be exactly the same as last year. And he cited a savings of about $100,000, which could pave the way for including the project.
"We know we are going to save $30,000 on busing. We know we are going to save on retirement. We know we're not going to buy $30,000 worth of textbooks, we're doing $10,000 instead," he said.
Negotiations with the teacher's union is still ongoing, so those figures are not known yet. Barton says another $70,000 could be cut from transportation by eliminating one bus and the van. There are three students coming to the school next year who would need the van but Barton says the school should approach the parents and see if they will transport the students for a stipend instead.
"I'm passionately proposing that we reduce the busing proposal by $70,000 and at the same time put $20,000 into choice in case we need the SUV," Barton said. "I'm confident that all three won't need a special vehicle."
Barton proposes dropping the special education transportation line down to $5,000 while stashing $15,000 in reserves just in case. However, to do a stipend agreement all three parents would have to agree or else the van would still be needed.
The rest of the School Committee agreed that the reduction of a bus could result in saving because the buses are currently only half full. But, they were not willing to agree to rid themselves of the van, which is mostly used for children with individualized educational programs.
The school also shares buses with Mount Greylock Regional High School, so eliminating the $30,000 for one bus could transfer that cost to the high school.
Barton also thinks the committee will save money in the lunch account. The town had been supplementing that program, which typically runs in deficit, but in the next fiscal year is transferring the money to the school district and putting it in charge. Barton says the committee can raise the cost of lunch as well as not replacing a staff member who retired.
"With us managing this on a day-to-day basis, we should be able to do better," Barton said.
Superintendent Rose Ellis, however, said reducing that proposed line is a risky move because the program is already running over for this year. With the town supplementing it because it was intended to be a self-funding system, Ellis said the district doesn't have as strong of an understanding of the operations.
"We are operating blind," Ellis said.
Barton also proposed a few options for saving money but those were rejected by the committee because they were contractual — such as changing the percentage paid for a shared bookkeeper through Supervisory Union 71.
Nonetheless, the committee is still hoping to hit the 1 percent increase mark.
"Last year we had a number and we actually had a little wiggle room," said Regina DiLego, committee member, who questioned if it was possible to hit that target. "What do we have to eliminate to get to 1?"
The committee is still working with the administration on the budget and has set a hearing for later this month. The board does not expect to vote the budget at that point.
"It is important to have a target but as you work toward it, we are allowed to move the goal posts," Barton said.