North Adams School Budget Cuts 19 Positions

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The finance subcommittee will recommend a fiscal 2015 school budget that includes the reduction of 19 positions.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Department is cutting some 19 positions to cover an $827,000 budget gap.

The overall school budget is $16,094,000, up 1.28 percent over this year, dependent upon using $400,000 from the school choice account.

But the city's state-mandated contribution for fiscal 2015 is $4.9 million, up $200,000 from this year while Chapter 70 state education aid is up only about $39,000.

Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said the trend of rising costs and decreasing state aid over the last eight cycles is "frightening."

Since 2008, the city's minimum spending is up $1.7 million but Chapter 70 is down $823,000, said the mayor. "You put those two numbers together and we're down $2.5 million."

"The reality is state aid has been reduced and it continues to force us to reduce our school spending in our school budgets," he said, noting that the 2008 school budget was $166,000 more than the fiscal 2015 proposal. "We've not been able to raise revenues locally at the same pace the way they're declining all over the city."

Superintendent James Montepare said cuts in staffing will account for about $750,000 of the proposed reductions; the rest is being made up through savings, such as moving Central Office and the learning center to the new space on Main Street that saved about $116,000.

Four of the 19 positions targeted were left vacant by retirement or people leaving.

The rest are "real bodies," said Montepare, in reviewing the budget on Monday with the School Committee's finance subcommittee.

Not all those affected have been notified yet, but the positions being reduced include 10 classroom teachers across the district, five professional non-contract and four, possibly five, teaching assistants. Those include technology, Title One and a social studies teacher.

"I may be back to the committee at some time during the course of the year requesting another $125,000 from the school choice" for programs, Montepare said.   

The school choice account currently contains $975,000; a total of $440,000 would be taken out for fiscal 2015, and the possible $125,000, leaving $410,000. Some $616,000 is projected to be used in fiscal 2016. Replenishing the fund at about $255,000 a year would run it out by the end of fiscal 2017, said Montepare.

Enrollment has dropped but primarily in the so-called "feeder schools," said Montepare. The district had 1,798 students in 2008 and 1,554 projected this year.

"Kindergarten and preschool are strong and growing," he said. "Our total population has not declined except where it hurts the mayor's budget ... It hurts him but helps me."

There are "some very wild cards out there," he said, including final numbers from the state budget and reoccurring grants that may not be known until the end of August.

One wild card is special education, which is being underfunded by about $125,000 and residential about $200,000. The district currently has 17 or 19 students in highly specialized services, some of it pediatric medical care, costing about $1.6 million, said Montepare, for which the reimbursements rates from the state have been up and down.

The mayor said the revenue package he has proposed for fiscal 2015 would not affect the school budget. However, should a Proposition 2 1/2 override pass later in the year, "we will reinstate funding so the school district will only have to use what it takes in on school choice," Alcombright said, although it would not be possible to replenish the $400,000 being taken out.

The finance subcommittee voted to recommend the spending plan to the full School Committee, which will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, June 3, at 6 p.m. at Central Office, 37 Main St.

North Adams School Budget FY2015

Tags: fiscal 2015,   school budget,   

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