NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Department is anticipating an $18.2 million budget for fiscal 2022 based on state budget numbers and state and federal grants.
The appropriation would be level-funded from this year at $17,769,074.
Superintendent Barbara Malkas cautioned that this is still a preliminary budget and that "there are still a lot of moving parts."
"This year it feels a little bit more predictable mainly because the governor did issue a budget on Jan. 27," she told the School Committee's finance subcommittee last week. "So the timeline that by which we're going to know about funding will be better than it was last year."
Business Administrator Carolyn Burnett explained during her presentation that the district is being "held harmless" in that it will not see a decrease in Chapter 70 education aid despite have a drop in enrollment.
The school system lost about 110 students during the pandemic — the state saw 30,000 pulled from public education — but so far 30 to 40 have returned. Malkas expected that number will increase once in-person learning resumes.
Enrollment numbers are submitted annually as of Oct. 1, and the state appears to be sticking to that based on what officials said at the last Berkshire County Superintendents Roundtable meeting, Malkas told the subcommittee. "Since then, we've had a legislative delegation meeting with both our rep and our state senator to talk about the potential impact of that."
Projections for fiscal 2022 are an enrollment of 1,308 (which has already changed), a foundation budget of $17, 776,816 that is down nearly $400,000 from this year, a required district contribution of just over $5 million, and Chapter 70 funding of $13,848,943 that is up slightly from this year.
Required net school spending is $18,863,860, which is down slightly from this year. The district is also getting the $30 per student minimum aid for about $39,240.
Burnett said the per pupil based spending based on the foundation budget is $12,484; this is up about 48 percent from the $8,449 spent in 2007 when the state changed the way the foundation budget was calculated.
The district received Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER funds, to address issues related to COVID-19 and provide equitable services. This ranges from intake assessments to technology for remote learning to mandating $10,000 be applied to mental health services and supports. The second round of ESSER has been announced with the same allowable expenditures.
"What the leadership team and the district is proposing is that we utilize the ESSER II funds, and we don't use the school choice funds," Burnett said. "This process is like a big Rubik's Cube and we're not only thinking about FY22 but we also have to have considerations for FY23 and FY24 as well and those funds could be used in an emergency situation."
There is currently $1,945,343 in the school choice account with another $240,195 in projected revenue for next year; the district used $265,000 and $288,545 in the last two fiscal years, respectively, to offset expenditures.
"That's great because in the event of rainy day money, having it in our back pocket is helpful," said Chairwoman Tara Jacobs. "And we've definitely had rainy days."
Also on the horizon is the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus plan recently passed by the House that contains funding for educational systems.
"We need to think about how we use those funds," Malkas said, adding they didn't want to "just backfill" next fiscal year. "You want to make sure that you're actually using those funds in a very strategic way over multiple years, so that we're not using it upfront and then having a cliff effect on down the line."
The superintendent said the district leadership team was making plans on how to implement in-person learning and where to strategically allocate resources.
"The data is clearly showing — and again, this is a national wide trend that students will have academic loss, just like we see summer regression of academic skills," she said. "This has been a long stretch where students weren't getting the intensive level of skill development that they would get in the classroom."
Teachers have been doing "a really wonderful job to try to offset that," Malkas continued but it wasn't the same as the options available in the classroom.
The public schools are also required by the state to address inequities in the system and that has been part of conversations.
"The district leadership team has been thinking about how equity and inclusion really need to permeate all three of our strategic initiatives and really addressing this issue around significant disproportionality in the two metrics by which we've been identified by the state," Malkas said.
She said she would be seeking approval from the School Committee use some of the federal funds to meet the three targets around academic achievement, behavioral social and emotional learning and addressing the issue of significant disproportionality.
The budget would essentially be level-funded but would also allow be a level-service spending plan.
"Level funding doesn't necessarily mean that we can provide level service, when we start to take into account any of the other contractual obligations that we need to meet," Malkas said. "We feel that we can advocate for and keep our current level of service. But then may need to use ESSER funds to really address some of the issues associated with our district improvement strategic initiatives."
Among the proposals for federal funds are full-day prekindergarten, guidance counseling services for Grades 7 and 8; universal services in the elementary schools; science and social studies curriculum; technology; personal protective equipment and contractual obligations.
"These would be items that we would normally not be putting into a level fund budget," Malkas said.
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Say goodbye to this burst of spring — Mother Nature prefers a little chaos in her work.
The warm temperatures of Wednesday are about to plummet as a snowstorm — yes a snowstorm — bears down on the Berkshires.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for Pittsfield north and parts of Southern Vermont beginning Thursday evening through Friday night. Total accumulations could reach 6 inches in the higher elevations.
Accuweather is forecasting up to 10 inches with rain all day Thursday and temperatures dipping into the 40s. Thursday night will temperatures dropping into the 30s.
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