NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials are proposing a level-service budget for fiscal 2022 of $18,380,596.
The draft plan presented to the School Committee on Tuesday is also level-funded and includes no cutbacks. The appropriation would be the same as this year: $17,769,074.
"While there are many things that are becoming more and more clear with regards to the FY 2022 budget, there are still some unknowns," Superintendent Barbara Malkas said. "This is a draft budget, we do not expect that the School Committee will be able to take any action on it tonight. We will need to schedule a public hearing for later in this current fiscal year, when we get to that point where we are, in fact, knowing what our true revenues and our true costs will be for FY22."
Those unknowns include finalizing contracts with professional staff and several nonprofessional bargaining units and final numbers from federal stimulus funds.
This budget is being supported by state Chapter 70 education aid and $611,522 in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds but not by dipping into the district's $2 million in school choice funds.
Business Administrator Carrie Burnett said the district benefitted by being held harmless by the state in terms of enrollment. The entire state saw a dip of 3.6 percent and North Adams, 8.15 percent, to 1,308 students. The reasons for the drops in enrollment statewide was in part due to families removing children for home-schooling or private school because of the pandemic.
Despite the drop in enrollment of 116 (which school officials believe will mostly reverse in the fall), the district will receive an additional $30 per student in aid, or $39,240, for total Chapter 70 funds of $13,848,943. North Adams was among the 242 districts out of 318 that received the minimum for extra aid from the Student Opportunity Act.
"So North Adams actually benefits from being held harmless as the aid is spread out over fewer students," said Burnett. "However this does increase our per pupil spending, due to a lack of economies of scale."
The current balance of school choice funds is $1,977,911. This revenue has often been used to offset costs and lower the appropriation through taxes. Burnett noted that declining enrollment and the pandemic has also affected school choice numbers, with the district receiving $332,000 in fiscal 2020 compared to a projected $240,000 in fiscal 2022. And it expended $24,000 more in school choice this year than last.
Federal funds have come in four phases as part of several congressional acts designed to support communities during the pandemic, along with state relief funds ($98,650). The first federal relief fund was $304,425, followed by ESSER I, II and III.
"The school district is approximately three-quarters of the way through the ESSER I fund with a carryover and an ending balance of $93,022, and we intend to use some of the ESSER I and ESSER II funds in the FYI 22 as well as the FY23 fiscal years," Burnett said. "We have already spent the Prevention Fund, as well as the school reopening grant, and mostly those funds have gone to PPE and technology."
The ESSER I amount was $491,049, she said, "it was strongly recommended that these funds are used for non-recurring expenses with such allowable activities that include educational technology, supplies and services that enable remote learning, mental health services, activities to address the needs of low-income students with disabilities, [English language learners] and ethnic minorities intake assessments, planning and implementing summer learning, PPE and other activities necessary to maintain district operations and services to employ existing staff."
ESSER II was signed into law Dec. 27 with similar restrictions and an added condition that at least at $10,000 be committed to student mental health and services. The district is in the process of applying for the $1,902,168 grant, which would run from July 1 to Sept. 30, 2023. The third ESSER is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act signed March 11 and requires 20 percent be committed to addressing learning loss and that the district have a plan in place for return to classrooms.
"We do not have our allocation yet but it's supposed to be to 9.2 times as much as the CARES Act," Burnett said. "They do not have a start date yet and we don't have our allocations, but they did outline that the ending date for that fund would be Sept. 30 of 2024, which then would mean that there would be some leftover funds to go into the FY25 school year."
Some of the resource considerations for the coming school year include teachers and staff for full-day prekindergarten; guidance counseling, social-emotional supports and career readiness; science and social studies curriculum; technology (iPads & Chromebooks); personal protective gear; student support services and teacher professional development; and contractual obligations.
"Some of our key issues in coming up with this budget are near term and long term. Addressing achievement gaps due to the pandemic would be a near term, as well as addressing the social emotional needs of students and staff, finding the staff and services necessary to meet these needs, and maintaining DESE safe return to school guidelines," she said. "The long-term concerns would be maintaining and funding the safety and DESE guidelines as well as services for FY23 and beyond, understanding and addressing the declining enrollment, capital planning for buildings and technology, and planning procedures and coordination systems to improve district preparedness and response efforts in, God forbid, another pandemic."
School Committee member Heather Boulger questioned the inconsistencies in salary line increases, which include estimated amounts. Burnett said there can be wide swings from year to year just from older teachers retiring and new teachers — at lower pay — coming on. Plus she noted, the district had been moving wages up for nonunion employees to reach the $15 minimum wage (which is state law effective Jan. 1, 2023).
"I think you are correct in that Ms. Boulger, it is important to point that out. A lot of these raises, they are in fact representative of two years ... because at this point last year we had no idea what our revenues would be, and in our budget for FY21, our professional staff and our non-professional staff and bargaining units, many of them did not take an increase," said Malkas. "So the set increase is actually representative of what they missed in terms of a cost-of-living increase or a negotiated increase this year."
Once the figures are more solid, the School Committee will hold a public hearing before voting on the fiscal 2022 budget.
"I appreciate the emphasis right from the jump that we're in a draft mode, that we're continuing to understand this. That's true on the city side as well," said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "So thanks for this and more to come for everyone."
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BOSTON — The governor is proposing a two-month-long sales tax holiday this year as a way to support local economies and that would put an estimated $900 million back into residents' pockets.
A sales tax holiday is already on the books for Aug. 14-16, a weekend of tax relief in August that's now a law in the state at this point. The Baker-Polito administration filed legislation on Wednesday to expand the sales tax holiday to the entire months of August and September.
"A two-month sales tax holiday will provide a boost to Massachusetts' taxpayers and Main Street economies as we continue to recover from COVID-19," said Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday in a statement. "Massachusetts' economic recovery is off to a good start, but it's crucial that the commonwealth takes action now to spur more economic activity in communities and support taxpayers. Thanks to stronger than expected tax revenues, the commonwealth has managed to grow the rainy day fund to a balance higher than it was at the beginning of the pandemic, and we can also afford to return these tax dollars to our residents and small businesses."
State tax revenues for fiscal 2021, he said, continues to "significantly exceed projections." Sales tax revenues to date are 14.9 percent above benchmark and revenues across the board means the state is poised to end the fiscal year with a significant surplus.
The commission granted Chairman Jeff Naughton and Administrative Officer Angie Ellison permission last week to begin reviewing applications for both a Fixed Base Operator (FBO) and a new airport manager.
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