CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee delayed its budget vote until Monday, March 27, to determine if more positions needed to be included.
The date puts the vote before required 45 days prior to town meeting. Committee members felt this allowed the opportunity to form a budget that may include positions originally cut.
"That's what we need to figure out as a committee," Chairman Paul Butler said. "At what point are we willing to say we need to have something more in the budget that is important for the kids and fight for an increase."
Even though the committee voted to close Cheshire Elementary School last week to lower expenses, Adams still asked the district to keep its assessment to no more than a 3 percent increase.
This means the district had to cut an art teacher, a home economics teacher, a secretary and only hire a portion of the positions recommended by the recent University of Massachusetts' Collins Center study.
School Committee member Edmund St. John IV said it did not sit right with him to close a school and still cut positions.
"We are being held hostage by this percent and in the past, we said it is fiscally responsible but not educationally irresponsible," St. John said. "I feel that is the path we are heading down again."
The committee members asked Superintendent Robert Putnam to return with another budget option that includes the home economics position so they could see how much it increases the Adams assessment.
They also asked for a budget that contains more of the Collins Center recommended position such as the special education coordinator.
Also during the meeting, the School Committee went over some lingering questions left after the school closing vote last week.
Putnam provided a list of stipends so the committee could take out those that may not be necessary. Although some are contractual, some of the stipend positions do not have to be hired.
School Committee member Stephan Vigna said he wanted to see more consistent stipends.
"It just seems the way we pay out we pay a little bit more than a majority of the county and I know we use a crazy formula but I think we need to come back to something basic," he said.
The committee questioned team leader stipends and wanted to know where they currently are used and what will be needed with the school restructuring.
School Committee member Darlene Rodowicz asked if it was possible to eliminate the strength and conditioning stipend of $4,800.
"I don't see how I can justify funding any of that when we are talking about taking money out of the classroom," she said. "I just find it odd — we cut all the athletic training but we are keeping this, it doesn’t make sense?"
Currently, the district hires a person to monitor and assist in the strength and conditioning room; the program is open to all students.
School Committee member Regina Hill acknowledged her own conflict of interest because she helped raise funds to implement the program, but said she would want to hear from the athletic director before slashing the program. She added that she was unsure if the instructor held a special certification needed to use the room and run the program.
Putnam said because the program is open to all it allows students who may not be on an athletic team to make connections with athletes and coaches
Parent Brian Astorino agreed.
"My son does not play sports yet and I can say that in all honesty, that program and the connections he has made are one of the few things keeping him here right now," he said.
As for explorative, Putnam said in the reorganization there will be an art teacher and music teacher at Plunkett and at the middle school level at Hoosac Valley High School. At the high school level, there will be an art teacher and the band director will take over music.
Putnam added that by having more students up at the high school, younger students can participate in the band. Grades 4 and 5 will move to the high school in the reorganization.
"We are trying to figure out how to sequence in the other grades because usually, they start band in the sixth grade," he said. "The band director is terribly excited. The band program has grown leaps and bounds. It is a real strength and we need to capitalize on it."
Putnam added that over time he wants to implement more engineering, programming and perhaps a nursing program to add more hands-on educational experiences.
He also answered a request by committee member Peter Tatro who asked what it would cost to implement Project Lead the Way, a hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) program that can be implemented throughout the district.
He said it would cost the district more than $50,000 to implement the program with all the proper equipment but the district could also sequence it in over time.
"No one else in the county does this except for McCann [Technical School] and they do a very small portion of this so I was thinking a bigger launch for us would be a way to get more choice kids and keep kids here," Tatro said.
The School Committee will revisit the budget next week.
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