WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District budget is tracking to deliver a 2.5 percent increase in its operating budget assessment to the town of Williamstown and a 2.2 percent hike to Lanesborough.
The School Committee held a budget workshop on Friday to pore over the budget line-by-line.
The bottom line for the preK-through-12 two-town district remains relatively unchanged, rising 1.1 percent from $24.1 million in fiscal 2019 to $24.4 million for FY20.
But the division of the operating budget for the middle-high school saw a major change that will impact how much money the district will seek from each of its member towns at this spring's annual town meetings.
Because of a shift in enrollment patterns and a change in the way the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education classifies the town of Lanesborough, its share of Mount Greylock Regional School's operating budget for FY20 will be 33.96 percent, down from 35.20 in FY19. Williamstown's share will rise from 64.80 percent in FY19 to 66.04 percent for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
The total local assessments -- wrapping in capital expenses and operating budgets for the schools -- were $5.8 million for Lanesborough and $12 million for Williamstown as of Friday afternoon (the budgets still are being developed). If those numbers hold, Lanesborough's total assessment would be up by $96,423, an increase of 1.7 percent; Williamstown's would be up by $239,960, a hike of 2.0 percent.
The changes at the state level have to do with how each town is classified relative to its ability to fund education according to metrics defined by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
"The state determines the minimum local contribution for each town based on enrollment and ability to pay, and ability to pay is calculated using [property values] and the Municipal Revenue Growth Factors," School Committee Chairman Joe Bergeron explained. "This year, the state's calculation is Williamstown's contribution should increase because of increased enrollment and increased ability to pay. And the state said Lanesborough's should decrease because of decreased enrollment and decreased ability to pay.
"The pendulum has swung."
Bergeron said the pendulum has swung both ways over the years between the two towns, which shared a middle-high school long before the commonwealth's Education Reform Act of 1993 attempted to address equity in school funding.
Just like with the operational budget, which is split by the regional agreement, the towns' relative shares of the district's capital budget -- which includes bond payments on the Mount Greylock building project -- have shifted for FY20. Due to changes in the towns' property values and, again, enrollment at the middle-high school, Williamstown's share of the capital budget is going up from 68.55 percent to 68.87 percent, a difference of .32 percent that is reflected in a .32 percent decline in Lanesborough's share, from 31.45 percent to 31.13 percent.
The bad news for Lanesborough is that while its share of the Mount Greylock expenses is going up, the operating budget at Lanesborough Elementary School is tracking for an increase of 8.8 percent, from $3.7 million in FY19 to $4.0 million for FY20, a difference of $325,813.
On the other hand, in Williamstown, while seeing its share of the Mount Greylock budget increase, is seeing a slight decrease in the operating expenses at Williamstown Elementary School, from $6.8 million to $6.7 million, a drop of $145,611, or 2.14 percent.
Per the amended regional agreement the towns ratified when the district fully regionalized preK-12, each town bears the cost of operating its respective elementary school. The cost of the middle-high school is shared, as it was when the regional district only covered Grades 7 through 12.
One driver of the increase at LES is the salary line for regular education teachers, which is up by 10 percent, from $896,682 in FY19 to $983,858 in FY20, a difference of $87,176.
"There are increases in salaries and a continued need for a 0.5 ELL teacher," Superintendent Kimberley Grady told the School Committee on Friday.
Williamstown Elementary School's budget, on the other hand, sees a slight decrease on the regular ed salary line, dropping by $61,641 dollars, or about 3 percent, because of retirements. The school's special education budget is down a little because of pupils aging out of the elementary school. And WES' budget line for health insurance shows a drop of about $60,000 due to changes in employees' needs.
Like other municipal entities throughout the county, Mount Greylock Regional School District is benefiting from no rate increase from Berkshire Health Group, the joint purchasing agency.
While some costs are down at WES in the FY20 budget, Bergeron noted that the Williamstown Elementary budget includes a $51,000 increase in the instructional hardware line, which will fund an upgrade to the school's phone system, and $55,000 to hire a new social worker at the school.
"The social worker is a direct result from what we're seeing of growing needs of children in the community," Grady said. "It's strategic planning in looking at feedback from faculty, staff, families and students. It's one of the top priorities.
"We have one here at Mount Greylock, and the students have talked about what a difference it has made. Even with an assistant principal, a principal and a school psychologist, the needs of students are that much greater. … A social worker can do the family interaction and wraparound services.
"It's a need for the school."
Another need that district officials have been discussing for years is addressed in the draft budget presented on Friday: $99,500 to fund a long-vacant director of curriculum and instruction position in the district.
The cost would be split among the three schools like other central administration costs.
Grady told the committee the time has come for the district to fill the position that will help align instruction across the district.
"We had the position partially in the past, then it became defunded," she said, referring to the days when Mount Greylock, WES and LES operated under a shared services agreement but were not fully regionalized.
"In the regionalization process, we talked about vertical and horizontal integration. And without someone making it their day-to-day, it won't happen at the level we want it to."
The Mount Greylock School Committee is scheduled to meet again on March 14 and will present its budget to the Finance Committees in Lanesborough and Williamstown later in the month.
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