Jodi Szczepaniak-Locke was supported in her motion to hire a second kindergarten teacher rather than pull funds from arts and music programs.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town meeting voted to increase the budget by $48,000 to add a second kindergarten class.
On the town meeting floor, resident Jodi Szczepaniak-Locke motioned for the additional funds to hire a second kindergarten teacher without having to find those funds elsewhere in the school budget. The school budget was proposed to be level-funded for the third consecutive year.
But that proposal was based on an early estimate of having 16 kindergartners, for one class. Since then, the number expected has jumped to 26 and the School Committee approved creating a second class.
"We will have to reduce the things that the community, the schools, and myself value," said Superintendent Kimberly Grady.
Instead of making a last-minute adjustment to the budget request, the administration was prepared to find the funds elsewhere in the budget. Szczepaniak-Locke said that would likely harm the arts and music programs.
"This should concern every parent in the room," she said.
While the majority of the 93 residents at town meeting agreed to add funds to the budget for the additional class, there were some detractors. Mark Siegers said the majority of the residents in town are over the age of 65, living on fixed incomes, and are being forced to sell their homes because of the tax rates.
"I think it is time for this town to start considering somebody other than the children," Siegers said.
Town Manager Paul Sieloff said while the impact of adding $48,000 would be small on the tax rate, it still adds to it. He said he's asked every department to be "very strict" with their budget requests.
"We have the second highest tax rate in Berkshire County, we spend about 2/3 of our budget on schools, and we have toward the top in per-pupil expenditure in the county," Sieloff said.
Meanwhile, Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham suggested that while the salary increase is $48,000, it will actually cost closer to $68,000 when benefits are included.
Resident Jen DeChaine, however, said the arts and music programs are part of the draw to bring new families to town and raise home values. She said people with young children want to move to Lanesborough because of the schools and to cut into those programs, would ultimately hurt the town. Michelle Johnson said the arts and music programs contribute significantly to the education so while the impact on the budget is small, the impact on the education could be significant.
The voters sided in favor of the increase to raise the elementary school budget to $2,472,710.
The additional $48,000 brought the total budget up to $11,393,891, and that was the only change to the Finance Committee's proposal. That brings the total budget increase from last year to $207,102. That represents about a 1.8 percent increase overall, about half of that is because of the onset of bills for the Mount Greylock Regional School building project. The school's assessment had increased by $92,489 for a total of $3,167,278.
The Mount Greylock assessment passed with little discussion. If the capital assessment for the renovation/new build hadn't hit the books, the assessment would have actually decreased this year. The only discussion about the assessment was from resident Don Dermyer, who asked about revising the district agreement to include tax-exempt properties in the formula to determine each town's portion.
The two towns had approved an amendment to the capital assessment agreement that included a measure of town wealth, which lowered the town of Lanesborough's share for the high school. Some in town, however, felt it needed to go further because properties such as the Clark Art or Williams College contribute greatly toward helping Williamstown but isn't included in the assessment formula.
Mount Greylock School Committee member Chris Dodig said that discussion is worth having this year when the formula for the operational budgets will be amended if the regionalization vote is passed.
"As we go forward with the regional district amendment process, which is trying to bring the elementary and the high school into one region, it is necessary that we amend that same agreement," Dodig said.
Dermyer also raised questions on numerous other lines but mostly providing clarification on some changes — such as the merging of a tree account into the public safety services account — or asking for more information — such as the salaries of the three staff members in the assessor's office.
Town meeting also approved a new solar bylaw after much discussion and a ban on single-use plastic bags, and polystyrene food containers.
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