CHESHIRE, Mass.— The Hoosac Valley Regional School Committee reluctantly accepted a reduced $20.2 million budget for the next fiscal year. The amount is $115,000 below what it sought.
The committee took one last look at the fiscal 2022 budget Monday night and voted to accept the $20,228,715 spending plan that although is not in line with long-term educational goals, fits into Adams' budget.
"There will be a point where we will have to make a stand, and I don't know if this is that year," Superintendent Aaron Dean said. "We do have resources that we can tap into ... and I feel confident we can put something together that will serve our students well next year."
Last week school officials met with the Adams Selectmen's budget subcommittee to request a recommended budget of $20,343,715. This budget maintained the district's current status and utilized grants to further support education.
This budget represented a 1.21 percent overall and a 4.91 percent increase to the Adams assessment, an amount the Selectmen said they were unable to budget for.
The Selectmen said they were only able to support a 3 percent increase as outlined in the district's third budget scenario.
This equated to the district's proposed Scenario 3 that totaled $20,228,715 and is a 0.64 percent increase. More critically, this is up 3.24 percent for the town of Adams, yielding an increase of $171,888 instead of a $260,051.
This $115,000 budget gap will be partly made up through an additional teacher reduction. This is on top of the proposed reduction of three paraprofessionals and one teacher in the Scenario 2 budget. These positions would be eliminated through attrition.
The rest of the gap will be made up using grant funding, most notably Rural Aid funding and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, Funds, part of the federal COVID-19 relief.
This is a concern of the district because these grant funds are not continuing revenue sources. The more grant funds directed toward the core budget, the larger the increase will be to Adams and Cheshire once the funds run down.
Dean said once grants expire, costs could get out of hand immediately.
"We will be looking at a 5, 6, and 7 percent increase," Dean said. "We won't be standing on that higher ground."
He estimated the grant funding should carry the district through 2023. He said this does give the district time to work with both towns in regard to the education budget that continues to stagnate year after year with minimal state funding.
Dean said although the state funding formula is a major issue to address, the local formula is also causing some hiccups. Swings in enrollment can drastically change town assessments. He said just the 32 new students from Adams this year triggered the 3 percent increase.
Cheshire's assessment decreased.
Dean said he felt that Adams leadership was interested in talking about long-term education funding goals but needed some time.
"While 0.64 percent is not what we were hoping for, it may be best in the short term," Dean said. "...We think there is a commitment on Adams' part. They felt like they needed a bit of a runway to look at this."
He said if the district were able to accept their optimal level serviced budget, some funds would be redirected toward student support.
School Committee member Adam Emerson felt this was unfair to the students to not make such additions in favor of balancing the budget.
"In a year where we have heard so much about supporting students, we are going to take money, that would increase those supports in the first full year students are returning, to balance the budget," Emerson said.
Michael Henault agreed and did not think Adams was supporting the budget as it should.
"[Adams Town Administrator Jay Green] really didn't want to get into a conversation about valuing our budget over others ... but I think the budgeting process shows pretty clear," he said. "He talked about the fiscal health of Adams and the free cash still on the table ... but it is not supporting the budget our kids need."
He added that his fear is that the shrinking of the budget would continue to chip away at enrollment.
School Committee member Regina Hill felt that every year the town of Adams forces the district back to tweak its budget.
"I understand the situation in the town, and I don't want to see taxes increase ... but it is time that we move past that," she said. "We always have to be at a certain level ... we always have to go back and adjust."
She said although she did not support the lessened budget she did not think it was a good year to go against the town and risk not an approved an approved plan.
Dean added that the budget will serve the district in the meantime, but they will have to find creative solutions in the near and distant future. He said this still was a concern of his.
"I think we are going to have to be extra creative, and I don't know if we can be creative enough to maintain everything we want," Dean said.
The series of votes all ran along a 5-2 line. Emerson and Bethany DeMarco voted against the budget.
The town boards now must accept the budget before sending it to town meetings for final approval.