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Clarksburg Holding Off on School Choice Decisions

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The School Committee is holding off on approving school choice slots for this coming fall because of the uncertainty of what the school year will look like.  
"As much as our schools are benefit from school choice and the funds that are received from it, we really have to be careful this year about how much school choice we accept," said John Franzoni, superintendent of the Northern Berkshire School Union at last week's meeting. 
He noted that the phase one merger study last year by Public Research Group found the average classroom in the state had 22.5 students and that Clarksburg was low enough to consider taking in more school-choice children. 
But during the novel coronavirus pandemic, it would behoove the school to be more conservative if the buildings are allowed to reopen in the fall, he said, and administrative team has discussed numbers at 14 or 15 to ensure children can be spread out.
"When we come back, it's not going to be the same," Franzoni said. "We still don't know, obviously, but we know we have to make some plans and arrangements to keep everyone safe."
Last year, the committee agreed to a school choice window in June and a second in August.
Principal Tara Barnes said the classroom numbers haven't changed since April, with the two bubble classes of Grades 2 and 6 moving up to 3 and 7 in the fall. 
So far, there are about 15 children expected for kindergarten although there is the possibility of more being signed up this summer. 
"My advice, at this point I think, is that we would be conservative about opening up, and not opening up slots in this June window and waiting to see what happens over the summer," she said in case families move into the community. 
One case in point is a family building a home in Clarksburg but whose home won't be completed until December because delays caused by the pandemic. The committee voted to allow their son to start kindergarten in the fall since the school had received documentation confirming the build. 
On the other hand, three families have or are moving out of Clarksburg. The school's policy is the children can continue out the year but would have to apply for a school choice slot in the fall, if any are open.
Barnes and Franzoni recommended waiting until August to determine if any school choice slots should open. The committee agreed.
"I know I personally feel like it makes sense to wait, because we don't know what the beginning of the school year even looks like at this time," said committee member Cynthia Brule. 
Franzoni said the district has also developed a fiscal 2021 spending plan and was able to keep within a 2 percent increase as requested by the town through the use of school-choice funds. 
"I think as you know we've done a diligent job working together with Principal Barnes and actually to cut the budget down to where it should be a passable budget," he said. 
The town's Finance Committee is expected to review the budget on Monday. 
The district also sent out "reduction in force" letters to teaching assistants paraprofessionals, hourly employees and non-professional status teachers. Franzoni said this was on the recommendation of the legal counsel for the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents in light of the uncertainty of Chapter 70 school aid. 
The Legislature is in the process of rebuilding the state's fiscal 2021 spending plan that was ravaged by novel coronavirus. With a projected shortfall of upwards of $5 billion in revenue, state school aid and aid to local governments is expected to take hit.
Franzoni said the letter made clear that the impact was for fiscal 2021.
"Now our goal will be to try to call them all back at some point when we get more financial information from the state how about how the revised state budget will impact Chapter 70 funding and the towns, which of course impacts our school funding," he said. "Teachers are on a contract so we are required to call anybody that's being called back before the end of June. 
"Now for the teaching assistants and hourly, we don't have a union contract to go by, but we're going do our best to try to inform them by the end of June, if we will be able to call them back, or not, but we're hopeful that we can."
The district had planned to again submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. The matter had been discussed at an earlier meeting with the volunteer repair committee and the decision was made to try to get back in the pipeline with the potential of a modified building plan. 
An attempt at a renovation and addition project was defeated several years ago because of cost but voters did approve a half-million in borrowing to tackle some projects. 
"The original plan was to submit in 2021 anyway, because we know that we need to do more beyond what the debt exclusion funds are allowing us to do," Franzoni said, adding he had informed the Select Board that the SOI would not be submitted. 
The school had been invited to have a representative on the building committee for Greylock Elementary in North Adams "to keep our options open," Franzoni said, but that project is now being put on hold until at least Sept. 1 because of the changing financial environment. 
Jennifer Macksey, assistant superintendent of operations and finance, reported she had been working with other school districts to amend the bus contract with Dufour Tours. The bus company had agreed to a 50 percent reduction from March 13 to the end of the school year. 
Berkshire schools had initially closed on March 13 but their was a chance they might reopen until the governor shut down the rest of the school year on April 21.

Tags: Clarksburg School,   COVID-19,   school budget,   school choice,   

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Clarksburg Town Meeting Passes $4.6M Budget, OKs Truck Purchase

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Select Board member Allen M. Arnold is sworn into office by Jeanne Moulthrop, voted temporary town clerk for the meeting.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — A sparse town meeting burned through a 19-article warrant on Wednesday night under sunny skies. 
The meeting, held on the lawn of the Senior Center because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, swiftly approved a town budget of $4,565,710 and the purchase of a new Department of Public Works truck for $250,000.
Based on the financial articles passed on Wednesday, including a transfer of $98,000 from free cash to reduce the tax rate, the property tax rate is estimated at $17.86 per $1,000 valuation, three cents lower than this year.
The town has a current free cash fund of $518,892; town meeting also approved transferring $250,000 in free cash to the stabilization account and using $64,138.20 to pay off the library loan. 
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