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Hoosac Valley Superintendent Aaron Dean presents the regional district's fiscal 2024 budget to a joint session of the Adams Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee.

Hoosac Valley Regional Fiscal 2024 Budget at $21.4M

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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ADAMS, Mass. — Hoosac Valley Regional School District Superintendent Aaron Dean presented a $21 million budget on Tuesday that he said represented a step forward in both education and budgeting.
"We want to invest our money in instruction and control operational costs overall. So I am very pleased about the work that we've done with this," Dean told the joint meeting of the Finance Committee and the Selectmen at the Adams Free Library.
"I think it's a very solid budget that is more reflective than in the past of what we're doing as a district … Our work is about having high-leverage teaching practices across the district and having consistent student experiences from pre-K to 12. It's also about having coherent programming and really having programming that has an identity."
The School Committee adopted the $21,385,195 budget on Monday night. This represents an increase of $759,756 or 3.68 percent.
Between the two towns, the district must raise $9,475,417. This is a 2.521 percent increase. 
Adams' assessment within the levy limit is $5,843,904. This is a $206,543, or 3.664 percent, increase over this fiscal year.
Business Manager Erika Snyder noted that Adams' foundation assessment of $5,375,874 has increased as the student split between Adams and Cheshire has slightly changed from 76/24 to 78/22
Further broken down, the town's transportation assessment is $468,030, and its capital assessment is $683,051 — a decrease now that the only debt on the book is the school building project bonds.
Into the actual budget, Dean was happy to say Chapter 70 state education aid is forecasted to finally be catching up to the district's actual needs. He said Chapter 70 is anticipated to come in at $11,233,231. This is an $807,327 or 7.7 percent increase.
He said the reason for this is the district is now meeting the Student Opportunities Act threshold.  
"So now we're in a place where we're going to get adequate funding from the state moving forward," Dean said. "We have talked about this over the years, how It's been unfair, that any increase that we've had to move forward with the burden always was laying on the towns."
He reminded the two boards that in his first year on the job he eliminated 22 positions, and they saw small budget increases of 0.7 percent and 1.9 percent.
He also noted that these Chapter 70 shortfalls have forced the district to lean heavily on excess and deficiency funds to balance the budget every year. Some $675,000 was used one year to balance the budget and to lower the assessments to the towns. 
Dean was happy to say that this year, the district is using $75,000 of E&D in the budget, marking a $200,000 decrease, or 72.7 percent.
"We did a right sizing of the ship the first year to kind of work that number down," Dean said. "This budget will allow us to work that number close to true. So when we do a budget, it is a true reflection of what we're doing and we're not taking money from the previous year and carrying it over and continuing rolling in that over."
He said by pulling E&D out of the structure of the budget, the reserve funds can be used to address capital projects such as the two gymnasium roofs at the high school and the elementary school roof. 
On a side note, he added he will be looking at an Massachusetts School Building Authority project in the coming years to address the roofs.
Tuition reimbursement is $125,000, a decrease of $90,000 simply because there are fewer district students enrolled at Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School.
Also, the transportation budget has decreased by $33,138 and is projected to be $946,020. This represents a $468,030 assessment to Adams. A 1.9 percent increase. Dean said this was through reworking the busing and eliminate a bus for savings.
Moving into the Regular Instruction budget of $6,307,139, Dean said this budget is up 8.7 percent or $505,002. 
He said a large part of the increase is the addition of two assistant principals of teaching and learning which marks a 3.6 percent increase in the school building leadership line item of $1,252,143.
"They are working with teachers during collaborative planning time. They are looking at the curriculum and making sure that it's being implemented the right way. They are developing professional development for teachers when they see gaps," Dean said. "We added those as part of the [Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund] funds and have found that these are positions that we need to leverage to move to move this district forward."
He also pointed to the new curriculum line item of $150,000 that will improve actual instruction materials and curricular evaluations. He also noted the inclusion of a curriculum director who will do this evaluation work and work toward improving the curriculum using data to inform decisions.
Moving into the special education budget, Dean pointed to a 43.5 percent increase in the administration budget of $372,900 that includes a new chair of the department. He said this needed employee will oversee and organize the department.
He said other increases and decreases represent the shifting and reorganization of personnel related to changes in programming or the creation of efficiencies. Some increases indicate hiring new employees that in many instances are more qualified and higher on the salary schedule.
Another notable increase is a $69,825 increase in the $512,088 District Office budget as officials plan to move central office to the ground floor of the Jones Block on Park Street. The offices have been at the former Cheshire School. 
"Now we will have a lease, but we will be right in downtown Adams," he said. "We will have the whole first floor, and that is exciting. We will enjoy where we are."
Tuesday's joint meeting was the third in a series of budget sessions. The boards will next review public buildings and facilities, inspection services and public safety at 6 p.m. on Thursday in the library annex. 

Tags: fiscal 2024,   HVRSD_budget,   

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Mass Audubon Sole Respondent for Greylock Glen Programmer

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass. — Mass Audubon was the sole respondent to the town's request for proposals to provide "place-based environmental education" at the Greylock Glen Outdoor Center.
The Lincoln-based non-profit returned an in-depth plan with a six-year project timeline. Mass Audubon was among the collaborators with the town in the early planning process for the 1,063-acre glen, of which about 50 acres is being developed. 
It notes that the programs envisioned for the center — lectures, summit hikes, school field trips, bird walks and the like — would be tailored to demand as time goes by.
"[O]ur staff are trained to utilize a community engagement approach to understand from residents and other key constituents what they hope to learn and do where we operate environmental education programming," Mass Audubon's letter of intent reads, in part. "This data helps to inform how we design and implement program portfolios that meet our desired outcomes."
Town Administrator Jay Green said Friday that town staff will review the proposal before a likely presentation from Mass Audubon to the Board of Selectmen, which will decide whether to enter into lease negotiations with the non-profit.
Mass Audubon's proposed lease agreement calls for a zero dollar annual payment to the town for a five-year period beginning April 1, 2024.
A letter signed by Mass Audubon President David O'Neill explained that the non-profit deviated from the town's request for a 10-year lease because of unknowns related to the Glen development project.
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