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Sixth- and seventh-graders from Hoosac Valley Middle School give a presentation to the School Committee on what they learned at a leadership conference.

Hoosac Valley Braces for Potential Budget Cuts to Close $480K Gap

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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The School Committee will see different budget presentations in March.
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Hoosac Valley Regional School District is bracing for a tough budget cycle and will work with Adams and Cheshire to make up budget gaps.
Superintendent Aaron Dean told the School Committee on Monday that he has already met with Adams officials to discuss the fiscal 2021 budget that in its early form is $480,000 short.
"The reality is that we have to close a gap of $480,000 at this time given the numbers on the cherry sheet and the normal increases in the budget," he said. "We will restructure and we will continue to do great things with kids we just have to find ways to consolidate and do things differently." 
Business Manager Erika Snyder said the conversation with Adams would have happened sooner but there was still some uncertainty around the cherry sheet that details the district's state revenues and debits. Dean added that he will soon meet with Cheshire officials to continue this discussion.
Snyder did think the conversation with Adams was very productive and felt that the three entities could work together to find a compromise.
"They know where we are at, they know where our challenges are ... and what continues cutting could do to the education and our budget," she said. "It was helpful to lay it all out there and hopefully there will be some sort of compromise and it won't be the worst case scenario."
Dean said he is having ongoing discussions with his administrative team and is working through different budget scenarios that he will present to the towns.
"There is no doubt that we are going to have to make some cuts and I did put that out to staff today so they understand that we are working on this and working collaboratively," he said. "We are looking for ways to mitigate the cuts the best we can."
He said he hopes to make this presentation March 9.
He added that the district did not benefit as much as other districts from the state's Student Opportunity Act because of enrollment decline. He said he is encouraged by the increased population in the elementary and middle schools but acknowledged the district has difficulties holding on to these students in high school.
Dean said this is part of a larger conversation about the future of the school district.
"I feel like people are giving us a chance and we are getting them in the doors," he said. "But we really need to make sure people understand that there are a lot of great things happening here."
The district will continue efforts to collaborate with other school districts and organizations as well as seek out new grant opportunities. 
"I want to be clear," he said. "This is not doom and gloom, we will figure it out."
In other business, the district extended the transportation agreement with Dufour Tours for another two years.
Snyder said the extension comes with a 2.5 percent increase that translates to a $23,090 annual increase over the current  $860,568 agreement. This roughly breaks down to $298.81 per bus per day for 180 days. There are 16 buses.
Snyder said a larger increase was worked out some years ago when the district negotiated a new three-year contract with options to extend another 2two years.
Dufour had wanted a 9 percent increase but the district negotiated to break this up through the contract, agreeing to a 4 percent increase in year one then a 2.5 percent increase in the next two years. 
Snyder said she was not confident the district would do any better if they went out to bid this year. 
"I don't think that we would be getting anything that favorable," she said. "The competition is minimal ... we are too small for anyone to travel from afar to invest in an entire fleet."
She said there are discussions among neighboring school districts to go out to bid together and allow bidders to bid on all or some of the schools. She said this would likely occur at the end of this two-year contract. 
Dean said he was confident that collaboration could lead to more competition.
"I think there is some power in that and we might get another bidder," he said. "But I don't think we are going to do better than 2.5 percent."
The School Committee also gave Dean the authority to appoint former special education director Jacquelyn Daniels as the interim director.
"She is a familiar face and she knows the programs and knows the processes," Dean said. "Although it is difficult to lose someone midstream, I think it is great to have someone in house who can step right in."
Dean said recently appointed director Jodi Drury left her post to take on another opportunity closer to her home. 
He said the position has been posted and there have been responses but Daniels will hold the position until the end of the year or until someone is hired. 

Tags: fiscal 2021,   HVRSD,   

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Dog Perishes in Pittsfield Structure Fire

Firefighters used several avenues of attack to douse the blaze.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A midday fire Thursday on South Atlantic Avenue killed a pet and left a family homeless.
Police happened to be at a neighboring house when they were notified of a fire at 16 South Atlantic. The Fire Department was called out at 12:35 p.m. and found "heavy fire conditions" on the first floor in the kitchen area, reported Deputy Chief Daniel Garner.
The fire had extended into the adjoining rooms of the 2 1/2-story, wood frame home. Crews from four engines and a ladder truck attacked the blaze; a primary search was conducted to ensure no one was in the building. 
There were no reported injuries but a dog perished in the blaze. Garner estimated that the house suffered about $20,000 to $50,000 in damage, largely from heavy fire and smoke on the first floor and smoke damage throughout. 
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