CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The School Committee voted on Thursday to cap the amount of school choice funds that can be used to offset the budget.
The committee determined an amount of $300,000 to prevent the account from being completely drained.
"I think it's really important," Superintendent Jonathan Lev said in recommending the action. "It's our only emergency money."
He called the dependence on school choice worrisome because budgets are not going down. The district is keeping services level for next fiscal year since it's not hiring any staff but not also not cutting any.
The district expects to start the year with $350,000 in the account, but, Lev added, "if it continued like this, we would run out of choice money in like three or four years."
The school is expected to use about $355,000 out of the school choice account this coming year; $45,000 will be for the school's balance of the feasibility study for the failed school project, up to $40,000 is being considered for security upgrades at the entrance and removal of asbestos around the boilers. The bulk will be to offset the budget and prevent cuts.
Lev said the school district had initially been asked by the town's Finance Committee to come in at 2 percent over this year. The district had come in with a proposed 6.55 percent increase.
"They called us back and it seemed to me they were going to ask us to level fund but we were asked to come in 1 1/2 [percent] under level funding," he said. "What we're being asked to come on budget is $2,409,567. We were at $2,448,000 for this year."
Lev said the Finance Committee was cognizant of the need to keep funds in the account and aware that cuts would likely have to be made on the town side next year.
"We obviously have been increasing the amount we've been receiving since we started this 2010-2011," he said. "But also the amount the town has used to balance their budget has increased every year."
The committee also voted to approve the school budget and to open four school-choice slots -- two in kindergarten and two in Grade 6.
Principal Tara Barnes said the kindergarten is already expected to number 14 and that there were at least five families interested in the spots who already had children in the school.
"We try to shoot for classes of 16," she said. "Nineteen becomes larger than the classes we normally have."
Grades 1 and 5 will be split next year so there won't be space to consider splitting kindergarten. It's also unclear if there are more kindergarteners in town who will be registering, she said.
There was a discussion about waiting until later in the summer when the numbers are firmer before opening any slots. Chairwoman Patricia Prengruber thought opening slots now would at least allow a few families to be prepared for the school year.
The slots will be filled by lottery with those with siblings at Clarksburg School having priority and with the possibility of being revisited later in the summer.
The committee also bid farewell to John Solari, who is not running for re-election.
The retired Drury High principal is completing his second term. He said the failure of the school project was "a big disappointment" and hoped the volunteer group could fix some of the issues. The proposed merger with Stamford was a "wow," he said, because it had never been done before.
Barnes thanked Solari for being "a tremendous support to me doing this job." Lev thanked him for his time and service and Prengruber told him she'd miss him.
"I'll miss being here but sometimes you have to move on," he said.
In other business:
• Graduation for eighth grade is June 1, school picnic is June 4, and the last day of school is a half-day on June 11.
• The committee approved a calendar for 2108-19 that has school starting the Thursday before Labor Day, Aug. 30, and will end on June 12, if there are no snow days. Both the first days of school, on Thursday, Aug. 30, and Friday, Aug. 31, will be half days.
• The supervisory union will participate in "Promoting Motivational Learning and Achievement," a professional development program that will run through the school year, including three days before school starts.
"This aligns a lot with what we have been doing," Barnes said. "One of the big pieces in our vision is developing lifelong learners. ... This course I feel like offers a lot of opportunities for teachers to grow in that area."
• A bike rodeo is planned for May 10 at 5:30 p.m. at the school to prepare for Bike to School Day on May 11. The rodeo will include helmet fittings and bike tuneups, along with games. A second Bike to School Day will be held on June 7.
• The superintendent search committee expects to begin finalist interviews at the beginning of June; applications for the position are due Friday, May 4.
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