Students Take To Street In Favor Of Prop 2 1/2
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Outside the iBerkshires office Wednesday a group of students marched by holding signs in favor of Proposition 2 1/2.
A friend of the students started the awareness campaign at 10 a.m. and was later joined by the Drury High School students - who suggested making more signs. The group spent the day walking all around the city attracting attention from passing cars.
One sign lists possible cuts to the school that the students would "lose" if the override is voted down. The other signs pleaded for people to vote for the students that are unable to vote.
|Tags: Proposition 2 1/2, override|
Override Resolution on City Council Agenda
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Councilors will have to take a stand on the proposed $1.2 million override when the City Council meets on Tuesday, June 14.
On the agenda is a resolution stating that the council "supports the passage of the Proposition 2 1/2 override ballot question and urges voters to vote yes thus avoiding any further cuts to the important Public Education, Public Safety, Public Services and General Government functions of the City of North Adams."
The administration says the the override is critical to preserving services and educational programs. Over the past few years, the city has lost $3.2 million in state aid even as costs have continued to rise.
The same night, Mayor Richard Alcombright will present a fiscal 2012 budget of $35,537,010, nearly $400,000 below this year's budget. It includes a $15.5 million school budget and a McCann Technical School assessment of $890,000 and is based on the passage of the override.
City Council Agenda for June 14, 2011
The resolution can read below:
|Tags: override, resolution|
School Committee Approves $15.54M Budget
The City Council's Finance Committee, Alan Marden, left, Chairman Michael Bloom and David Bond attended the School Committee's public hearing on the school budget for fiscal 2012. School Committee members John Hockridge and Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger are to the left.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — In a joint meeting on Tuesday night, the School Committee approved and the Finance Committee recommended a fiscal 2012 school budget of $15.54 million that includes reductions in staffing but no program cuts.
"In order to get to that number we had to cut upwards to a $1 million all from this budget," said Superintendent James M. Montepare, despite contractual agreements such as heating and busing that usually increase. "In putting this budget together I don't believe we have compromised any of our existing programs ... [but] we are to the bone at this point in time."
Cuts through attrition and job elimination include a special education post and teaching support staff in the elementary grades that were no longer needed; a Spanish teacher shared by the elementary school that will be replaced in part by the introduction of a world cultures curriculum in the English language arts program; a Title 1 director and a technology director.
The two administrative positions are being replaced by divvying up some of their responsibilities and creating two lead posts with stipends. Montepare said some $120,000 in administrative staff was cut but a teacher was saved.
Also cut were a custodian position, three paraprofessionals and two teaching assistants. There were a total of 11 retirements, some which will be replaced by younger — and cheaper — teachers.
The teachers have restored $90,000 by returning a 1 percent raise for next year. Some $816,000 in banked school choice funds will be used in two $360,000 allocations over the next two years against the salary account. Montepare said it was easier to do that than shift the money to separate programs. What's left will be set toward special education needs.
"All in all I think we were able to keep our programs intact and we shuffled a lot of funding around to continue to support special education and classroom teachers," said Superintendent James Montepare. "I'm estimating we are probably about $340,000 or $350,000 above foundation."
School Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. said cutting to foundation level would decimate the school system.
Mayor Richard Alcombright, chairman of the School Committee, said the budget's proximity to the foundation level, the amount of education spending mandated by the state, complicates the scenario should the Proposition 2 1/2 vote fail in two weeks. "We're limited to what we can cut because we can't cut below minimum."
The administration has identified about $1 million in possible cuts from the school system, ranging from closing the Johnson Alternative Program to instituting fees for sports and extracurricular activities should the $1.2 million override fail.
With the Prop 2 1/2 vote two weeks away, Finance Committee member Alan Marden asked if any more cuts could be made now as a gesture similar to the City Council cutting its stipend.
"If we could send a small message tonight to help that vote go the right way, I think you ought to consider that," he said. "All I ask you is to try to find some few places to cut ... if you don't send that message I just worry about two weeks from now."
School Committee Vice Chairwoman Heather Boulger said she went "over this with a fine-tooth comb trying to find some place to cut ... the work of the principals, the administration and the [school] finance commitee to even come up with a budget that's $233,000 less than the current budget is amazing itself."
School Committee member William G. Schrade Jr. expressed concern that school budget has been taking the hit for years as it maintained almost level funding. "We're up maybe 1 percent – that doesn't even cover our fixed costs," he said. "[For the last] five years we've had an increase of 1 percent but we're losing 7 or 9 percent."
Montepare said some $4 million had been slashed over past four years. The Finance Committee voted to recommend the budget as it stood.
The mayor will present the school and city budgets at the next City Council meeting on June 14. The city is required to submit a balanced budget to the state by June 30. Should the override fail, Alcombright said "we'll have to go back to the drawing board."
|Tags: override, Finance Committee|
North Adams School Budget Hearing Slated
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee will hold a public hearing on the fiscal 2012 school budget at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Conte Middle School conference room that will be attended by the Finance Committee.
Mayor Richard Alcombright plans to bring the school budget before the City Council at its next meeting on June 14. However, scheduling the Finance Commmittee to review the spending plan beforehand became problematic because of senior week activities (Drury graduates on Thursday) and other commitments, including another presentation on a proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override on Friday night.
The option to meet and review the budget during its presentation to the School Committee was considered after last week's Prop 2 1/2 session since it would allow both committees to meet at once. The School Committee will hold its regular meeting immediately following the public hearing.
Prior to the hearing, the Finance Committee will meet at 5 p.m. in the City Council chambers to review the Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District budget with Superintendent James Brosnan.
The school budget being presented on Tuesday is $15.6 million, the largest single item in the city's proposed $35.6 million spending plan.
The budget is also the largest target in "Plan B" should the $1.2 million Prop 2 1/2 override fail on June 21.
Superintendent James Montepare said the school budget has been trimmed by more than $4 million over the past few years and that the budget being presented is $147,000 below this year's.
The administration has identified more than a $1 million in possible program cuts and layoffs, and fees for certain extracurricular activities. School spending, however, cannot go below state-calculated foundation level of $15.4 million without endangering some $14 million in Chapter 70 funds.
At the second of six public hearings on the proposed override, Montepare said the city had been funding well above foundation for years ($3 million or more) but reductions in local aid had decreased its contribution to about a half-million above foundation.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
The override question, which would permanently raise the tax levy to meet current obligations, has divided the city going into the June 21 election. An outspoken group is calling for more reductions in spending to offset the $3.2 million decrease in state aid; others are advocating for the override, saying the city can't afford to cut its schools and services anymore.
A website, VoteYesForNorthAdams.com (created by Brian Miksic), is being promoted on Facebook and offers information on the current budget, the proposed cuts and Proposition 2 1/2. It also has a handy calculator: drop in your property assessment and it will total up the added cost of the override.
Opponents say the override estimates of about $20 a month more for the average home isn't factual because it doesn't take into account last year's 10 percent tax increase, the hike in the water fee and the implementation of a sewer tax. Homeowners have been hit by these increases over last six months in the quarterly bills.
The antagonism is getting heated enough that the mayor posted a message on his Facebook page asking people to leave the "NO on Prop 2 1/2" signs popping up around the city alone.
|Tags: override, Finance Committee|
Students Make Plea to Pass Override
Robert Cardimino, left, and music teacher Chris Caproni were talking outside Drury High School. Cardimino said at the meeting that if the teachers voted to return the one percent raise in their contract, he'd support the override.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Three Drury High School students spoke up for their education on Tuesday night, pleading with voters not to slash school programs to balance the budget.
"I want to leave knowing I can come back here and have a place to be proud of," said Andrew Varuzzo of North Adams, who will be attending Holy Cross in the fall. "I would hate to see this community, this school die a slow death because we could not pass this bill."
The senior and classmates Evan Schueckler and Luke Sisto addressed about a 100 people in the Drury High School auditorium at the second of six planned public sessions on a $1.2 million Proposition 2 1/2 override that city officials say is critical to saving services and school programs.
Schueckler, of Stamford, Vt., is going to Harvard, but hoped to return to the city "to do great things," but not if he wasn't assured his own children would get the same education he received.
Varuzzo said he planned to register to vote on Wednesday "solely for the purpose of voting yes for a Proposition 2 1/2."
Their statements were greeted with applause from an audience that seemed weighted by parents and educators. It was a far cry from last week's City Council meeting, when opponents of the proposal railed at Mayor Richard Alcombright to cut services and use the city's meager reserves to plug a $1 million hole in the fiscal 2012 budget.
"There were more people with different points of view," said the mayor after the 90-minute session. "It felt better to listen a little more.
All presentations begin at 7 p.m.
On Tuesday, the mayor repeated much of the presentation he made last week, noting the city has lost more than $3 million in annual state aid since the economic crisis in 2008 and has burned through most of its reserves.
The city had more than $1 million in free cash in 2008 but the account is now at about $165,000. Most of the funds in the land sale account have been used to offset cuts, although the city is hoping to replenish some of that with the sales of about 60 lots this month and some lands it owns outside its borders.
Alcombright said the much talked about $900,000 in school choice funds will be used to retain special education programs for the next two years, with a $100,000 held out as buffer for other special ed needs. But the failure of the override would mean deep cuts in staff and programs, including drama, music and arts.
At least 100 people attended Tuesday's session and more than a dozen, mostly educators, spoke in favor of the override. Drury Principal Amy Meehan wore an oversized T-shirt that said 'Support Our Students.'
"This are things that we discussed that could possibly be cut if the override doesn't pass," he said, adding that any of the programs slashed might not be reinstated for years. "Some people say I'm threatening .. this is no threat, this is reality."
Patricia Wall took the mayor to task for waiting too long to bring options to citizens. She said she would have supported a $600,000 override for the school system but that city should look at raising fees and other measures.
"Unfortunately, the ballots are all printed, this is it. It's black and white when we go to vote," she said. "There should have been more options; it was realy not fair to do it this way."
More than a dozen people spoke on the issue, most with links to the school system including Superintendent James Montepare. Former School Committee member Ronald Superneau recalled how Proposition 2 1/2, when it passed in 1980, had devastated the school system and how it had taken the city years to recover.
"I don't like taxes ... but I don't want to see any of this stuff gone," he said.
But Louis Chalifoux, who spoke against the override last week, said citizens are already being taxed every which way.
"The only tax that any of us have any control over is Proposition 2 1/2. Now why in the world would anybody vote to increase your own taxes when in fact you have the opportunity and the right to control the city's budget," he said to applause. "And that's the key — the buck stops here."
Robert Cardimino, another vociferous opponent of the override, found himself stating he'd support it after music teacher Christopher Caproni, former president of the teachers' union, pledged to vote to give back his one percent raise for next year at the union's Thursday meeting.
"If you do forgo your raises I will vote yes for this proposition," he said, then complained Caproni didn't live in North Adams.
Sisto, the final speaker and president of the Drury Drama Team, said the cuts would "slash the spirit of our school."
"We students are an investment in the future," he said. "Are we not worth $20 a month? For all property owners, are we not worth that extra $20 a month?"
|Tags: budget, override|