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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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Tags: budget cuts,   North Adams School Committee,   school budget,   

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North Adams Committee Tweaking Solicitor Ordinance

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The General Government Committee is considering side-stepping a thorny problem about access to the city solicitor by rewriting an ordinance to more clearly spell out lines of communication. 
Chairwoman Lisa Blackmer said the wording in the ordinance had raised questions as to whether any single councilor has "unfettered access to the city solicitor." 
"I think, we thought that was not particularly good," she said. "So I'd like to take a shot at rewriting that ordinance."
The council had objected back in 2018 when the city switched over to KP Law as city solicitor, limiting council members' access to the Boston law firm. The council members had been used to contacting former City Solicitor John B. DeRosa, who'd been kept on retainer for 35 years before stepping down in March 2018.
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