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Finance Committee member James Stakenas and Mark Denault, along with Town Administrator Carl McKinney, meet with school officials.

Clarksburg Finance Committee Has Questions on School Budget

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The Finance Committee and School Department are working through the budget for fiscal 2020 and trying to determine where some $94,000 in retirement insurance for should land. 
 
The Finance Committee wants it coming of the school's budget since it relates to retired school employees but the School Department believes it should be the town's line item. Committee member Mark Denault said the line item had been covered by school-choice funds last year with the agreement it would become a school expense. 
 
"I can go back and we can get our minutes," he said at Thursday's meeting. "But it was definitely talked about it, was agreed upon that that portion of cost to the town, again, the town being one budget, would be coming from the School Department budget."
 
It was no different, he said, than if a related line item came from the police or town or highway budget.
 
"It was just a matter of where the line item was going to sit and where the money's going to come from and what part of the budget it would be in," Denault said. "It's my understanding again that it was agreed upon it would come from the School Department."
 
Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent John Franzoni reminded the committee that he had taken over months after the budget was set and passed and was unaware of any agreement. 
 
Cutting the Clarksburg School budget by nearly $100,000 could have an impact on staffing, Franzoni said. Also, it was not clear if the school should be responsible for that line item. 
 
Two weeks before, Franzoni had discussed the line item briefly at a School Committee meeting and said he had asked the district's attorney to review the request. 
 
"It's not a normal accounting to have that included in th school budget," he said at the time. "The town's the employer of everybody who works here. It doesn't make sense to move that onto the school budget."
 
Finance Committee member James Stakenas, referring back to last year's budget discussions, said everybody's budget had been tight and it was a matter of finding the resources. 
 
"I took took the position that it is related to school expense," he said. "If you find something different from your colleagues fine, but it's related to the the school's expense and how we rally the revenue to cover it is a different conversation."
 
The Finance Committee has been pushing for several years to use more of the school-choice account to offset expenses. The state's school-choice program allows parents to "choice out" their children to accepting schools. The state funds follow the students. 
 
Clarksburg regularly takes in school-choice students and expects to have eight slots this coming fall, two in middle grade and six in kindergarten, while four school-choice students will be graduating from eighth grade. 
 
The cherry sheet estimates for fiscal 2020 have the school receiving about $328,000 in school choice along with another $1.8 million in state Chapter 70 education aid. The town's charges from the state are $162,798 in school-choice sending, down about $30,000 from this year. The charges for the charter school are about $25,000. These numbers are still in flux as the Legislature is still debating the budget. 
 
"If the town doesn't have any money, and we have some school choice to help keep operations and keep things going, then that's a logical place to look for it," Stakenas said. "But it was just last year it was regarding, where's the expense? Where does it go? And where the resources to cover it?"
 
Franzoni said the School Committee had voted to keep $300,000 as a base in the school-choice account to cover any emergencies such as a building issues or a student needing expensive out-of-district care.
 
"The problem with that is that the town side of the budget, again, I don't like separating, but it's costing the town side of the budget $187,000 for school-choice sending, right so what school-choice receiving comes into the school department, there's no offset for that," said Denault. "And that's what we are trying to think about, to look at last year and fix is that the revenue sources there, it's just being diverted some how not getting to where the cost is coming out. ...
 
"It still puts the town as a whole to the negative $187,000. So I think that's what we were trying to fix last year with the discussion about school choice, and that revenue source coming into the entire town and the entire infrastructure."
 
Franzoni said he knew the School Committee in the past had been using up to $300,000 in school choice to offset the school spending over several years. He anticipated that again for next year but did not have the figure that was in the school fund right now. Business Administrator Carrie Burnett and the town accountant had that information but neither were at the meeting. 
 
"The budget we have now for next year, we're going to use $310,250 out of school choice," he said. "What Carrie had based that around is maintaining that $300,000 balance in the school-choice."
 
Denault said he was trying to determine what would be left in the account outside of the $300,000 cap and funds incorporated in next year's budget. 
 
"My point is as a town, I want to make sure that we're being financially responsible enough to say, we're trying to use the revenue source we have to help fix the problems in the infrastructure," he said. "That's all. That's what I'm trying to get to, is there going to be a pool of money over the cap?"
 
Stakenas was also concerned about having controls in place so the account wasn't being used to cover costs that should be budgeted. Franzoni responded that during his 10 months nothing had been spent out of the account that wasn't part of the budget. 
 
Franzoni also explained that a one-year 1.5 percent contract had been signed with the teachers union. That had been prompted by the proposed merger with Stamford, Vt., School and teachers agreed to hold off until that was settled. 
 
Another impact to the budget was a re-evaluation of the school union contract that hadn't been done in some six years.  Clarksburg had been paying 34 percent of the union budget but now would be paying 40 percent, or about a $40,000 increase. Part of that cost will be for the new full-time business administrator, Jennifer Macksey, who signed a contract on Thursday and will start on July 1. 
 
"Obviously, you know, the debate about Chapter 70 money and how the changes at the state level aren't impacting the rural schools at all," he said, and referenced a governor's conference call when he and Town Administrator Carl McKinney learned the increase would be 3/1,000th of one percent.
 
"So the only thing that is going to help us are the proposed changes in the bill by Sen. [Adam] Hinds, where he's trying to get $400 per student allocated for rural schools to help us," the superintendent continued. "We did receive about $13,000 this past fall we actually used for offsetting expenses in the budget. That was money that we were not anticipating getting, but, you know, the hope is that was Sen. Hinds' follow up on to that bill from last year that we would get more funds for Clarksburg."
 
The committee agreed to meet with school officials again next Thursday, April 25, to get firmer numbers on the school-choice account and the insurance line item. Stakenas said he would articulate his questions again to Burnett so she could answer them next week. 
 
"And then possibly that meeting, we can just come to the agreement on what the proposed budget is going to be, what's agreed upon and go forward with setting a budget because time is getting short to set a budget for a May meeting," said Denault. 

 


Tags: clarksburg_budget,   Finance Committee,   fiscal 2020,   

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Vt., Mass. Merger Committee Begins Planning Next Steps

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

STAMFORD, Vt. — With two successful votes in hand, the Interstate Merger Committee's next step is to hire a consultant to work with educational agencies and lawmakers to shape a school district shared with Clarksburg, Mass.

A special town meeting in Clarksburg last week and another on July 8 in Stamford gave the OK for process on creating a merged school district to continue.

For the committee on Monday night, the goal was to craft a request for proposals for a part-time consultant to work over the next seven months.

A first draft was made off the RFP used last year to hire Public Consulting Group, which did the research to get the process to this point.

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