North Adams School Committee Adopts Pared-Down Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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The School Committee adopted a 2015 spending plan with $827,000 in cuts, including 19 positions.

NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday night adopted a $16 million spending plan for fiscal 2015 that includes the loss of 19 positions.

The committee also approved the transfer of $400,000 from the school choice account to balance the budget.

The budget will be reviewed by the City Council's Finance Committee on Thursday at 6:30.

"Our responsibility is to provide the best education we can for the kids," said committee member John Hockridge. "It would be nice if we could come forward with a budget that could do that."

Savings and staffing cuts account for some $827,000 in budget reductions. Four vacant positions are not being filled; 15 others are layoffs. The city's contribution to the budget is $4.9 million, about $100,000 above the state-set minimum spending.

Superintendent James Montepare said the budget was being pinched by an increasing number of unfunded and underfunded mandates and declining state and federal support.

Eight years ago, the district was receiving $5 million to $6 million in grants, but last year the amount was $3.3 million.

"We've been stricken with an enormous amounts of mandated regulations," said Montepare, that often have little to do with education.

For example, a certain number of teachers had to be trained in how to restrain people at $3,000 a piece; others were required to take cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

"I've been using grants a long time and they're going for other things that don't go to education," he said. "The money goes someplace else. It's getting scattered in the wind."

Title 1 reading grants have been cut 15 percent a year over the past decade, for example.

"We've managed to continue to strengthen our services. We've always held true to our budget and we've managed pretty well with what we have," Montepare said. "This is a long run ... It just doesn't end. I don't see huge upsides in the economic climate."

Hotchkins asked if $100,000 could be put back in, what would be the first choice to reinstate?

Montepare responded it would probably go toward the overage in special education. "I still have to come up with $207,000 to offset the projected shortfall for next year," he said.

The district is spending about $1.6 million for special education residential and pediatric services. Reimbursements from the state have dropped from 75 percent to 40. Wherever possible, the district has been developing programs to keep students in-house.

"I think I would put our money into consolidation of what we do, making sure we don't duplicate, and keep on the path of providing as many services as we can," said Montepare.

The committee unanimously approved the budget, albeit with some reluctance.

"Nineteen positions and 15 bodies is a hard pill to swallow," said Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger.

In other business:

The committee adopted a policy for fingerprinting, another unfunded mandate. Those required to be fingerprinted will bear the cost ($35-$75); volunteers and others with limited contact with students will be left to the superintendent's discretion.

The committee voted not to participate in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, pilot tests. Greylock Principal Sandra Cote reported buggy online tests and frustrated students and staff over the four days of training and testing.

The state is considering replacing the MCAS tests with PARCC.

"We should hold off until someone makes the decision that this will be a mandated test," said Montepare.

Tags: fiscal 2015,   school budget,   

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