WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In the midst of an uncertain season for local schools, the Mount Greylock Regional School District offered a bit of good news to taxpayers at its fiscal year 2021 budget hearing: a spending plan that meets the district's needs, provides for a slight increase in staffing … and delivers a smaller hit to local budgets.
Just days before the district was forced to close its schools' doors to students because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials presented the budget at a lightly attended hearing in the meeting room of the middle-high school.
The bottom line for member towns Lanesborough and Williamstown is that voters at spring's annual town meetings will be asked to contribute less to the schools in FY21.
In Lanesborough, that means a reduction of $7,414, from $5.77 million to $5.76 million, a change of .13 percent. In Williamstown, the delta is smaller, just $341 or .003 percent of a total assessment of $12.1 million.
But in both cases, the change is in the right direction for town budgets.
The total school spending plan (operating and capital budgets) is up by $317,165, a change of 1.3 percent. That is driven by the operating side of the budget, which is up by $398,734; the planned capital outlay in FY21 is actually down by $81,569.
But the increase in the operating budget is offset by increases in a number of other revenue sources not related to property taxes in the member towns. The district anticipates: a $94,990 increase (11 percent) in tuition income, primarily from sending towns Hancock and New Ashford; a $106,689 increase (37 percent) in Chapter 71 Transportation Aid from the commonwealth; and a $79,954 increase (19 percent) from grant income.
There also are increases in the anticipated income from circuit breaker funding, Chapter 70 aid and regionalization aid as well as a $40,000 (7.3 percent) hike in transfers from the district's School Choice account.
All the increases cover the rise in the operating budget -- an increase that helps the district institute the program improvements that were the main focus of the budget hearing.
The district's three principals addressed the changes in their buildings for the coming academic year.
Lanesborough Elementary will be making technology upgrades, including a move to get its teachers on uniform electronic devices, Nolan Pratt said. The preK-6 school also will start installing smart boards in the classrooms, though Pratt said he and his team are still evaluating which technology will work best. The FY21 LES budget includes a $58,000 allocation in the new line item of instructional hardware.
It also includes a $32,500 allocation for a new part-time social worker at Lanesborough.
"Right now, our school adjustment counselor does a lot of testing and has a hard time meeting the emotional needs of students," Pratt said.
At Williamstown Elementary, some of the increased spending in FY21 is due to a change in the school's schedule.
For years, the school has dismissed pupils at 1:30 on Wednesday afternoon, and the teachers have used that hour and a half each week for professional development. With the advent of regionalization, the schedules at both the district's elementary schools will be unified beginning with the 2021-22 academic year.
"With the changing Wednesday schedule … there will be a full day of classes for all students," WES Principal Joelle Brookner said. "That has some tradeoffs contractually, so we will increase the art teacher position, currently a .8 [FTE] position, to 1.0."
Williamstown also will be adding .5 full time equivalent funding to its custodial staff, helping drive the custodial wage line in the budget to $171,718, an increase of $36,593, or 27 percent. And it will add a full-time math interventionist, helping increase the Special Education teacher salary line by $105,409 (30.4 percent).
"For a number of years, we've had a full-time reading specialist, so now we'll have that with math," Brookner said.
WES also will be investing $10,000 more (44 percent) in textbooks, echoing a budget priority at the middle-high school.
"The idea of attending to diversity and inclusivity and the desire to create cultural competency has pushed Mount Greylock to look at the texts it offers, particularly in the humanities," Principal Mary MacDonald said. "We've been looking at fiction and nonfiction texts that reflect that."
Mount Greylock also is looking to add more support social emotional learning programs for students and faculty, and it will increase staffing in its performing arts/music faculty from the current 1.8 FTE to two full-time positions, MacDonald said.
Mount Greylock's budget also includes a new $10,000 line item for "field maintenance-restoration."
"We came up with a nice, organic fields maintenance plan that's cost-effective," said Tim Sears, the district's director of buildings and grounds. "The turf is really hard. We couldn't even get a screwdriver into it. We're hoping that we can get that up to about 10 inches of nice, soft turf in the next few years."
All six current members of the School Committee voted to accept the budget as drafted and send it to town meetings in Williamstown and Lanesborough, currently scheduled for May 19 and June 9, respectively.
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