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North Adams Schools Preparing for Dire Budget Cuts

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Department is preparing three scenarios for budget reductions in anticipation of expected cuts in state education aid because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Business Administrator Carrie Burnett presented the School Committee  with 10 percent, 12.5 percent and 15 percent of across the board reductions on Tuesday night. 
The committee will be holding a workshop on Monday to discuss ways to meet the second and third targets.
"It's based on preliminary information that we have coming from the state, as far as where our numbers might be coming from," Burnett said. "It's a very fluid situation. And we felt like the budget workshop would be the best route to go to involve everybody and have a little bit more time to see where the information comes from from the state."
The first option, at 10 percent, would be a budget cut of $1,803,408. With estimated offsets of $1,196,049 from stimulus money, school choice funds, federal grants and special education tuition, the spending reduction would be $607,359.
"The impacts are grade-level reductions, capital investment reductions, central office staff reductions, program changes or eliminations, and elimination of some salary increases," said Burnett. 
Second scenario at 12.5 percent would be cut of $2,254,259. Using the same estimated offsets, the spending reduction would be $1,058,210 and would require cuts in educational staffing.
The third at 15 percent would be a $2,705,111 cut, for a total of $1,509,062 in budget reductions. 
"The final scenario that we are looking at, which is a 15 percent budget reduction, obviously includes everything that is discussed in the previous two scenarios," Burnett said. "But the additional options, that needs to be discussed at this budget workshop that we're going to be having next week."
She said the leadership team had looked at the needs of each school in preparing the reductions in the first option.
"For the 12.5 and the 15 percent budget reductions, we are looking to brainstorm further with this budget workshop," Burnett said.
Committee member Robert Moulton Jr. asked if a 20 percent reduction had been considered. 
"I would say that there's a such a degree of uncertainty at this time that is it possible. It's probably possible," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "However, the information that we're getting from the state is that we need to anticipate a 10 percent reduction in Chapter 70 [education] aid."
She said North Adams was not getting much through the state Student Opportunity Act, which will be gone, but did get federal stimulus funds through Title 1. 
"What we don't have yet is really any clear guidance from the House Ways and Means Committee as to what the cherry sheet numbers are going to be so," she said, adding that based on the guidance from the state educational associations, "these seem like reasonable budget models.
"We feel like this is a really great starting point. If we do have to do an additional 5 percent, that's going to have pretty dire consequences for the district."
School officials will be providing the committee with more detailed information next week to flesh out what the budget cuts would entail. 
"I think that there'd be a very clear understanding of what an additional 5 percent would require of us," Malkas said. 
The superintendent said they didn't want to come forward with too much detail at this point until the staff being potentially affected are informed, as the school district is contractually obligated to do. 
"Because we've had some retirements this year, we're looking at maybe we could mitigate a reduction in force by using our retirement positions for reduction," Malkas said. 
The state is recommending reductions of those with less than three years experience. But because it is so difficult for North Adams to find highly qualified staff, administrators are checking licensures to see who could slip into the retirees' positions.
"Now that we've brought people into the district, we don't want to lose them if we don't have to," Malkas said. "And so if we're able to do an offset through retirement and not to lose somebody permanently to a reduction, we want to try to do that."
School Committee member Tara Jacobs also wanted to be sure that any consideration of eliminating programming would be part of the budget discussion. Malkas said it would be and that the administrators would be presenting budget models that would hopefully mitigate the cuts and still provide a high quality program.
Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the School Committee, said there would be more details forthcoming.
"We wanted to set the stage for the deeper conversation tonight so that you have a sense of the things that we will be looking to talk about," he said. 

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North Adams Veterans Memorial Bridge Deemed 'Structurally Deficient'

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Jersey barriers and barrels were put up this week to limit a section of the roadway to two lanes. Plans are to soon prohibit large trucks from the bridge.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The 61-year-old Veterans Memorial Bridge has been declared "structurally deficient" after the most recent inspection by the state Department of Transportation. 
The city's Department of Public Services in a Facebook post on Thursday said the state has issued weight limit restrictions and lane closures. 
"These restrictions are due to structural deficiencies found during a recent inspection and are necessary to keep the bridge open until a repair plan can be implemented," stated the post. "Alternate truck routes [sic] detour signage will be posted over the next few weeks. Thank you for your patience."
The span is briefly narrowed to two lanes about halfway through its 171-foot span with barrels and jersey barriers. 
"This is a precautionary measure, because there is some critical deterioration," said Mayor Jennifer Macksey on Friday. "So these actions are being taken to really make sure that the rest of the integrity is safe and that big heavy vehicles avoid the area when we get to that point."
The ratings posted by MassDOT's Highway Division on Friday list a deck condition of 7, which is considered "good." But the superstructure rated a 3 and the substructure a 5. 
According to the Federal Highway Administration, ratings of 4 or less are classified as poor and 5 or 6 as good. The superstructure's rating of 3 lead to its designation as "structurally deficient." 
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