ADAMS, Mass. — The Selectmen's Budget Subcommittee did not support the Hoosac Valley Regional School District's favored budget scenario.
The subcommittee met Wednesday with school district leadership to go over the education budget, and town officials said they could not support the proposed 4.91 percent increase to the Adams assessment.
"We support you guys. We want you guys to do well, we need you guys to do well," Selectman John Duval said. "But it is just a tough financial situation this year."
In March, the School Committee saw an early draft of the proposed $20,343,715 fiscal year 2022 budget that represented a 1.21 percent increase.
This budget represents a $260,051 increase to the town of Adams and a $309 decrease to the town of Cheshire.
Before that, the district presented three scenarios:
Scenario 1: a level-service budget that Superintendent Aaron Dean felt, although optimal, was unrealistic for the town of Adams. This would be a 7.22 percent increase to Adams.
Scenario 2: the recommended budget that maintains the core budget while using grant funds to support education.
"It maintains much of what we have. We did some consolidation but used more grant funds to preserve more things," Dean said.
Scenario 3: this budget uses more grants to supplement the core budget. Although this budget is within the increase Adams programmed into their own budget (around 3 percent), Dean said it is not sustainable.
"If we don't preserve our core budget and rely too heavily on grant funds, we won't be able to reproduce that," Dean said. "We won't be able to provide what we need to provide for the kids, and we would be falling off a cliff in a few years because we did not preserve the budget."
Chairman Mike Mucci said the School Committee felt moving toward Scenario 3 brings the district beyond the "tipping point" at a time when returning students will need more help than ever.
However, although the town's budget is still incomplete, town officials said they could not cover this more substantial increase and felt they needed to keep the increase within 3 percent, as it has been in years past.
"If I was able to vote with my heart I think you know where I would be," Chairwoman Hoyt said. "But I am looking at different departments, different services, and infrastructure. Things that affect the school district and the residents."
She said departments were asked to provide level-funded or underfunded budgets and that many important town projects are on hold.
Town Administrator Jay Green added that the town's operational budget, as it stands, has decreased. The personnel budget only increased slightly. He said with decreased and uncertain receipts, it is likely that any increase would fall to the taxpayers.
He said he was reluctant to use free cash on recurring elements of the budget.
"If we spend a little more than that ... and we think we can justify that, we could have a problem," Green said. "It is a tight rope. We can see the precipice, and we are looking away from it."
Dean said both the district and town are in the same situation and this is exactly why he is hesitant to use unreliable grant funds on recurring costs. He said it was a gamble.
The meeting was not confrontational and both parties acknowledge that they were in the same boat.
"This isn't the town versus the school district," Green said. "Adams, Cheshire, and the district are in a pickle here and for some reason, we are not getting the relief that other communities get."
Both parties agreed that the real solution would be to address inequities in the school funding formula. Duval said he felt a sense of deja vu and noted he has been having this same conversation for the past 10 years.
Dean said funding problems in regard to chapter 70 go back further than that.
"We do have to attack this formula," Dean said. "I have taught here since 1998, and I remember a very similar conversation."
Dean said the "Aaron and Jay Roadshow" needs to continue to put pressure on the state to address the funding formula that does not address the needs of rural school districts.
Members of the School Committee understood the financial situation but were wary of possibly damaging the core budget and cutting services in such a critical time for public education.
Business manager Erika Snyder said she was anxious thinking about future budget cycles.
"This is a Band-Aid and ...it would just be a continuous flow of expenditures out of the core budget," she said. "I dug deep and scrapped the bottom of the barrel, and we have to be creative. We are between a rock and a hard place."
School Committee member Michael Henault said the committee still had to have a conversation as a full committee. He said it is possible that they would still vote to accept the original proposed budget.
Duval said the full select board still have to consider the budget as well.
Dean said the budget process is on a tight timeline and this vote will happen Monday.
"We will follow this and see where it takes us," he said.
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