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Clarksburg School Officials Propose Budget for Prekindergarten

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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CLARKSBURG, Mass. — The school is asking to up its budget by more than $200,000 for fiscal 2022, half of which would be used to incorporate a long-desired prekindergarten program. 
School officials are hoping to work out a solution with the attached public library for space and have budgeted $51,144 for a prekindergarten teacher and teaching assistant. The balance of the $101,000 would cover other essentials such as insurance, supplies and other needs but not necessarily any renovations required.
In total, the $2.7 million school budget reviewed by the Finance Committee on Monday morning is up $202,000 from this year's $2,507,086. The anticipated annual 2.5 increase is $62,677 and the preK program $101,000, leaving about a $39,000 gap. 
Assistant Superintendent of Operations & Finance Jennifer Macksey said the budget is largely driven by fixed costs, contractual and minimum wage increases and plans for the preK program.  
"Because of COVID this year, we had to hire a couple extra [teacher assistants] to help us," explained Macksey "Our thought is next year that we will reduce a few TAs, as well as a couple of support positions in order to finance the preK program. ...
"Please note that going into this, we did look at our staffing levels and adjusted accordingly. We originally had the Cadillac version of a budget, but this is a little bit of a stripped down budget today."
There are also increases in the transportation line for a special education student who needs to attend out of district and the amount of the Northern Berkshire School Union assessment for which Clarksburg is responsible.
"Your percentage change is from 49 percent to 51 percent," Macksey said. "That includes all the salary and operational expenses, basically our office. That is based on student population."
Another increase of $87,000 is for high school tuition.
"Last year we budgeted for 15 students. And this year, our projection is that we're going to have 22 students going to Drury High School," she said. "That's really something that we can't control and we're anticipating a 3 percent increase from the North Adams Public Schools."
In response to questions, Macksey said there are currently 18 students attending Drury and another four from this year's 24-member eighth-grade class will be going there. The rest of the grade will likely go to McCann Technical School, she said. McCann assesses the town separately for vocational education based on enrollment. 
Principal Tara Barnes said a final number won't be known for a bit because McCann is only taking applications at this point.
"Most of our classes in the last few years have trended toward McCann," she said. "I think it was two years ago, everyone went to McCann out of the whole class. Last year, it was everyone except for maybe three or four so it's been trending in that way over the last six years."
The amount in the cafeteria line will decrease to reflect that salaries will once again be paid out of the revolving fund. Last year's salaries were paid out of the budget because the cafeteria had been shut down.
Finance Chairman James Stakenas asked if there was any savings from the building being closed but Macksey said it hadn't really closed this fiscal year. There was ongoing construction and upgrade work during the summer and the building was open and being used with the start of school in the fall. 
Macksey said offsets include Chapter 70 education funding, grants and state rural school aid, of which there is no clear figure yet. 
"We're still waiting to hear what we're going to get this year, in fiscal year '21," she said. "So it's unknown as to what our allocation will be. Hopefully it will be the same. That's a wildcard in that line."
The school has received $85,000 in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER II) grant funds, some of which will be used toward a school adjustment counselor and $25,000 to offset the budget. Most of the school's TAs are also funded through grants, Macksey said. 
The largest offset is a proposal to use $400,000 in school choice. This will leave $190,000 in the account with another $277,000 expected to replenish it next year. The School Committee previously had voted to keep $300,000 in the account for emergencies but Macksey said the committee had approved dipping below that balance.
Committee member Debra Lefave expressed concern over budgeting for a prekindergarten program for which there was no location at the present. 
Superintendent John Franzoni said discussions about a preK program go back some years, noting a study done of the Town Hall as a potential space nearly a decade ago (along with several other ideas). The need has become more urgent because of the number youngsters in the community and the loss of access to the preschool in Stamford, Vt., because of the pandemic. Clarksburg's NBSU neighbor Gabriel Abbott School in Florida has indicated it could accept more in its preK but Franzoni said parents are not happy with the idea of sending 3- and 4-year-olds on a bus to Florida Mountain and that transportation and monitoring costs might end up close to what's proposed now. During a joint meeting with the Select Board, parents also said they wanted a preK in the same building their other children were attending. 
More recently, Select Board and School Committee members have been focusing on how to make a preK happen, believing Clarksburg is the only community in the Berkshires without one.  
"We know that we have a rather large population of young children in our community. A recent survey by Principal Barnes did indicate there were more than 20 students potentially for next year," Franzoni said. "We really targeted on the fact that the standards have changed in our state and that not having a preK program really puts our students at a deficit."
Franzoni pointed out that the kindergarten is full with 18-19 children, none of whom were school choice. 
"We've told families if you want to go to Clarksburg School this year, you had move into town and a lot of families did," he said.
The school and library have been at odds over parking and space issues but relations have improved to the point that school officials and the trustees have been discussing how the library could share with a preK class. A second walkthrough was planned for Tuesday. 
"This is really crunch time. I guess I would say we're looking to see is the funding available, if it is we want to go forward," Franzoni said. "If it's not, we want to let our families know so that they can try to make other arrangements."
Macksey said the school should have more detailed plans by March 22 and suggested creating a separate fund for the program.
The Finance Committee also discussed the 16-hour town clerk position at $19.27 an hour. Lefave and Town Administrator Rebecca Stone continued their disagreement over whether the final year of the town clerk's term had to be elected even though an article that would change the post to appointed is on the ballot. The Select Board is taking up the issue at its Wednesday meeting. 
Stakenas set the next meeting for Monday, March 22, when the committee will look at revenue figures.
"We will have on the budget sheet the number proposed by the School Committee, the changes that we just talked about in this meeting, and we'll be able to put it up against the revenue number to see where we stand," he said. 

Tags: clarksburg_budget,   Finance Committee,   fiscal 2022,   school budget,   

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Clarksburg Mulling Restoration of Misspelled Street Name

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Joseph Pevoski with sign he installed in 1970, from the North Adams Transcript.
CLARKSBURG, Mass. — Fifty years ago, Joseph Pevoski made sure his friend would not be forgotten by naming a road after him.
But at some point the road's name was misspelled and Pevoski's son wants to ensure his father's memorial to his friend is restored.
Pvt. 1st Class Herbert McLagan was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but raised in Clarksburg and graduated from Drury High School. He enlisted in the Army in 1941 and was wounded at Cassino a month after landing in Italy in 1944. He died two months later from his wounds.
Pevoski, also of Clarksburg, was wounded at Anzio and told the North Adams Transcript he had seen his friend die in the hospital. Twenty-six years later, he was given town permission to name the road in front of his house McLagan Drive. The sign was installed on the Fourth of July, 1970.
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