ADAMS, Mass. — The town held preliminary budget discussions with the Hoosac Valley Regional School District, which is proposing three assessment scenarios.
Members of the Selectmen's budget subcommittee met with school leaders Wednesday to begin early talks on the fiscal 2022 education budget.
"This is really preliminary. Everything that we are talking about tonight," Chairwoman Christine Hoyt said. "This warranted a conversation so we could start talking about numbers ... this is really the start and there is so much more to process."
Superintendent Aaron Dean outlined three possible scenarios that use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds in various degrees.
These funds have to be used over two years and the district would prefer to use these funds for one-time purchases.
Dean said scenario one would represent a 2.01 percent increase ($403,000) to the budget, which would translate to a 7.22 percent increase ($382,000) to the Adams assessment.
This budget uses ESSER funds for one-time expenditures or ones that in year two will be able to be phased into the operating budget through attrition or consolidation.
"We want to be using our ESSER funds thoughtfully," Business Manager Erika Snyder said. "Not for costs that we know will continue for years to come."
This is the district's preferred budget, but Dean noted it may not be affordable for the town.
"We have to find a number that works for the community and satisfies the needs," Dean said. "It is a balancing act."
Scenario two digs deeper into the ESSER funds and diverts more of these funds toward the core budget. This also calls for a reduction of $160,000 but holds the increase to 1.21 percent.
For Adams, this means a 4.9 percent increase in its assessment.
Dean said these two scenarios allow for the district to add various support structures needed to catch students back up after somewhat of a "lost year."
"We have some additional work to do to get us up to snuff," he said.
Scenario three pushes the $160,000 from scenario two into ESSER with an additional $115,000 reduction in the budget. This would mean a 0.64 percent increase ($128,000) to the budget.
For Adams, this represents a 3.24 percent increase ($171,888) to its assessment.
Dean said scenario three is the "survival" budget that really does not progress the district.
"We will survive another year, and we won't necessarily move anything forward," he said. "That is why we need to have these discussions to see what we can do and how far we can come in terms of the numbers."
Dean felt the district was at a threshold where if it cuts any deeper, class sizes would increase to an unmanageable level and programming would be severely compromised
"I don't think we can go any lower," he said. "I think at this point in time we can get by. Yes, we would like a little more in certain areas, but those are the sacrifices that you have to make ... We are really at the point where we are looking at how this will impact the kids."
Town Administrator Jay Green did some quick math and noted scenario one would yield a $5,680,850 assessment, scenario 2 a $5,580,483 assessment and scenario three a $5,470,320 assessment.
Green said he has based his early budget draft on scenario three as it is in line with past increases. He said he would have to make adjustments to the budget to reflect different scenarios.
Green guessed that with scenario three, using the same shift, a residential tax rate would be $22.99 per $1,000 valuation. He reiterated this is simply an estimate.
Before diving into the actual budget, the group discussed the building blocks and noted these numbers are based on cherry street estimations from the governor's budget and subject to change as the budget processes through the House and Senate.
"We like to try to assemble and input all of these numbers as they come along," Green said.
Dean said the district's Chapter 70 allocation has increased minimally, about $35,000, and because aid is so stagnant, any increase really has to come from the communities.
He added that because of the unique makeup of the district, it also cannot cash in big on grant programs like the Student Opportunity Act.
"We are one of those districts that fall through the cracks when we talk about state aid," Dean said. "We are big enough where we have needs, but we are small enough where we don't really get those resources you see across the state."
Dean said Hoosac Valley will receive between $30,000 and $40,000 in Student Opportunity Act funds while others receive millions.
Snyder added that even with the same budget as this fiscal year, Adams would still see an increase. Because of the way the district agreement works between Adams and Cheshire and a shift in enrolment toward Adams, the town would see a nearly $40,000 increase right off the bat.
"We haven't done anything yet and just based on these changes in enrollment and shift at the state level, you are seeing an increase before we have been able to do anything," Snyder said. "It just shows how problematic this equation and mechanism can be to regional districts who rely so heavily on Chapter 70 ... we don't have a lot to work with."
The School Committee will review the budget in the coming weeks. Once approved it will move before the towns.
Green did mention the McCann Technical School portion of the town's education budget. He said Adams will be assessed $1,055,418.
Green briefly talked about his early passes through the municipal budget and said he has requested level operation budgets from department heads. He said personnel services are slated to increase 1.87 percent.
He said he is aiming to decrease operating expenses by 0.31 percent.
"It is not lean in a negative way; it is not tight in a negative way," Green said. "It is a good snapshot of what it takes for us to run the town. We are not adding people or adding much to the departments."
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Increased COVID-19 Cases Cause Adams to Slip Back Into Red
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass.— Board of Health Chairman David Rhoads is urging residents to stay vigilant as Adams slips into the red level designation for COVID-19.
"It is always disheartening to convey bad news, but we are in the red here in Adams," Rhoads said at the Selectmen's meeting Wednesday. "We are definitely in a surge."
Rhoads said the town has been reporting a new case every day for the past three weeks.
Rhoads spoke directly to residents over livestreamed meeting and asked them to continue adhering to hygiene and social distancing guidelines to stop the spread, especially now that more aggressive variants have touched down in Berkshire County.