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The School Committee presents its spending plan for fiscal 2015 to the Finance Committee.

Adams Finance Panel Urged to Reject 'Inadequate' School Budget

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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Finance Committee Chairman Timothy Burdick was sympathetic to educators' pleas but said their arguments needed to be made at town meeting.

ADAMS, Mass. — Teachers and administrators made a stand Wednesday night against an "educationally inadequate" school district budget that's short $300,000.

The request was enough to split the decision of the Finance Committee, which voted to recommend the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District's proposed budget by an 8-5 vote.

"This budget and last year's budget are not academically stable for our students," School Committee member Joshua Demarsico-Birkland said. "The only option I see is eventually going for a [Proposition] 2 1/2 override whether we like it or not, and it's something we need to consider because the district just keeps cutting and we have nowhere else to go."

The committee recommended the $4,601,300 assessment to Adams, which is a 2.8 percent increase over this year's budget.

The total school budget is $18,604,786. With the assessments from both Cheshire and Adams, the district is left with a $300,000 hole to fill.

Superintendent Kristin Gordon said this will "most likely have to come from staff cuts."

The budget ultimately will go to town meeting for a vote. Town meeting members can vote to add to the budget; a ballot article could also ask for Proposition 2 1/2 override to fully fund the budget.

Teachers urged the committee to reject the spending plan, but committee members explained that this could be a risk.

The committee only recommends if the proposed budget is fiscally responsible for the town to adopt; if it was not to recommend it, the budget may not pass through town meeting.

The committee also cannot change amount since the budget must go on the warrant as the School Committee approved.

"Remember this is the School Committee budget presented to us," Finance Committee Member Paul Demastrie said. "We don't change budgets. That is not in our power. We can only approve or disapprove."

If the budget does not get approved at either town meeting in June, it will be returned to the School Committee for deliberation, with a very limited time in which to return an amended budget to the district voters for reconsideration.

Without ample time, the district could be forced to use the 2014 fiscal figures until a new budget is approved.

"You run a risk of having the state run your budget if it doesn't pass," Finance Committee Chairman Timothy Burdick said. "You have to get an argument on the town meeting floor to bring up a greater number and the calculations would have to done to see if it needs an override."

Teachers and administrators said they feel the town should support the school district more. The Finance Committee responded that the towns must start paying for the renovated high school in fiscal 2015, which is a very heavy burden.

With the debt exclusion for the renovated Hoosac Valley bond, the towns are facing with their first full payments this coming fiscal year, with Adams bearing the higher burden.

"As a town member with students in the school I am all for supporting the school, but I also have too look out for all of the people in town struggling, and it's just not the year," Burdick said. "In good consciousness, I could not recommend increasing the budget too much."

School Committee members said they stayed within the parameters set by the town in fear that if they proposed the budget they wanted, it would be rejected.

The Finance Committee said perhaps they should have proposed a budget more acceptable to them, but even then there is risk involved.

"We are all sympathetic believe me," Demastrie said. "You have to remember there are many other departments in this town that eat up the town's budget."

With such a tight budget, the district will have little surplus left and could easily enter a deficient situation. Gordon explained that if a special-needs student needs to be placed in another organization or institution, it would cost the school. The schools only have a few behavioral rooms and they are not equipped to deal with some of the district's troubled students.

"Having a budget like this with no cushion keeps me awake at night because anyone of those placements could cost us $60,000 to $100,000 a year which we would have to pay," Gordon said. "We have children with those kinds of needs."

She added that this would mean an immediate shutdown of supplies and staff cuts.

The Finance Committee urged the teachers and administrators to go to the town meeting if they wanted to attempt to increase the budget.

"Town meeting has changed budgets in the past," Demastrie said. "They have the final authority, and I urge you to stand up and make your case."

The Finance Committee also recommended:

A McCann Technical School assessment of $718,169. The budget has increased 2.6 percent because of a higher Adams enrollment and increases in health insurance and transportation.

Keeping the salary of the treasurer/collector the same even though the town will be electing a new person. They decided to discuss possibly changing the starting salary after budget season.

Tags: ACRSD,   Finance Committee,   fiscal 2015,   school budget,   

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