Lanesborough Finance Committee Approves School Budget

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The Finance Committee met with the School Committee on Thursday to come to terms with the budget before town meeting.

LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The Finance Committee is supporting a $2.5 million budget for the Lanesborough Elementary School.

The recommendation is $20,000 less than the School Committee approved but that is because the town will be spending free cash to fix the curbing in front of the building, thus removing that capital project from the school budget.

The School Committee approved a $2,602,531 and the Finance Committee is recommending $2,582,532.

Overall, the budget is close to a 3 percent increase but it also includes $26,500 for the school lunch program. The program was funded from the town's operational budget and is moving to the school's this year.

Without that, the school's original request was 2.18 percent higher than this year and now with the capital project coming from the town, it hits closer to the 1.5 percent target Town Administrator Paul Sieloff set.

The Finance Committee approved the budget request but the members weren't happy with the way the funding is going. Each year, the budget increases at a rate that limits the funding for other departments, the members said.

"I feel like we are just raising the price every year. And in business, you can't keep raising your prices every year or you'll go out of business," said Christine Galib.

School Committee Chairman Robert Barton replied that the school is continually trying to become more efficient. The school is looking to reduce a bus, which will save $60,000 in transportation, considering reducing the cafeteria staff by one employee and still debating about cutting a tutor position from .6 FTE to .49.

"I think we've done an extraordinary job at being efficient," said Jim Moriarty.

But Barton feels more can be done. He voted against the $2.6 million request and petitioned the Finance Committee to recommend a lower number. That would force the School Committee to find even more areas to scale back, he said. The rest of the School Committee opposed Barton's tactics and plan.

However, only Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham voted in favor of number $12,000 lower so the motion failed.

"I feel that the school budget needs some wiggle room," said Finance Committee Chairman Bill Stevens.

While the Finance Committee doesn't like the proposed budget, the members called for longer-term solutions to the continual growth — most of which is related to collective bargaining.

Recently, the health insurance benefits has become a hot topic around town. The town is the vendor of the insurance so all of the teacher contracts are wrapped in with the same health care as other town employees. This year, the town is not negotiating the percentage the employees pay.

"You just can't hammer one big issue every time," said Sieloff, citing that just two year's ago the town renegotiated the benefits and pushing more health care costs onto the employees.

"We will do it next time."

Stevens added that with an generous health insurance plan, that encourages teachers to add their spouses onto it, raising the cost even higher and "subsidizing" private companies who provide worse coverage.

"We've got to have a health insurance program that is competitive to industry," he said.

While the percentage may not change for another three years, Sieloff did say he wants to be more involved in the school's personnel decision.

"At some level, we need to be involved in personnel decision if you are adding people to our health insurance," he told the School Committee.

Superintendent Rose Ellis encouraged the town to "take an aggressive approach" to it.

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

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