NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The proposed school budget for fiscal 2024 is up $1.3 million over this year but the city's share will be level funded from this year at $3,838,270.
The budget was presented to the School Committee on Tuesday, following last week's review by the Finance and Facilities Committee.
The total budget draft is $20,054,352, a 6.91 percent increase over this year. The total increase is $1,296,564, exactly how much more the district is receiving in Chapter 70 state education aid. That aid totals $16,216,082 at the moment. (It's possible that figure may rise in the Senate's budget draft.)
Superintendent Barbara Malkas said last week that the administration was strategizing for the coming "fiscal cliff" when federal and state funding related to pandemic recovery disappears in fiscal 2025, such as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. Some line items are being phased into the operations budget for next year.
"We will have to make some decisions about what has been funded through ESSER — behavior technicians, positions like that — that we say these are important to our student population. They align with our district priorities. We'll need to bring those into the local budget," she said. "I'm not seeing any drive from the federal government to think about replacing that funding for schools as a direct fund ...
"I think that ESSER III will sunset and there won't be a replacement for that. So it will end up being a necessary conversation."
Budgetary considerations include increases in administrative salaries, operating and maintenance costs and changes in demographics. Some staffing reorganization and reductions are being done through retirements, eliminating unfilled positions, and the relocation of the program at the Armory to Drury High School.
"So, we are keeping by enlarge our existing staffing levels, however, we will have some changes associated with changes based on enrollment," Malkas said at the finance committee. "No one's going to be in need of notification of loss of a position but we are making some staffing changes, either through right of assignment or based on retirements."
Two interim principals will be retained as principals and a new curriculum director position will cover two of the elementary schools. Class and club advisers are being retained but consolidated under different titles. (There had apparently been some concern they were being eliminated.)
The $365,000 line item for maintenance and repairs will require some discussion as there are building issues at both Brayton and Greylock Schools, including the possible replacement of the ancient boiler at Greylock, and roof repair or replacement at City Hall, of which the School Department will have some responsibility. Both the elementary schools are in the midst of a feasibility study expected to replace or repair one of the buildings.
No school choice funds will be expended to cover this budget. Business Administrator Nancy Rauscher noted that $1.1 million had been pulled from school choice to cover the school project feasibility study (most of which will be reimbursed by the state) but that there is still a "decent-sized school choice balance."
There are a number of adjustments throughout the budget after a historical review of where the lines were over and underfunded, she said.
"The only real difference that you'll see there is that as we go into FY 24, we're going to keep the same strategic objectives in our main three areas. The difference will be in how we are kind of prioritizing them," Malkas said. "This past year, social emotional learning and mental health supports coming out of the pandemic in the post pandemic recovery, we wanted to really emphasize that and that was our first objective.
"We're now going to push that into the second position, moving instructional prioritization onto the first spot."
The third priority continues to be diversity, equity, inclusion and justice.
Enrollment is down 13 percent from 2019, with a tally of about 1,208, but the needs of this student body are higher than in 2019.
"We've actually been a recipient of additional Chapter 70 aid associated with that increased level of need," said the superintendent. "So in 2019, 54.7 percent of our students were identified as high need; in 2023, 78.3 percent of our students are identified as high need, and the state average is 55.1 [percent]."
More children are at an economic disadvantage than in 2019 and, while the number of students with special needs is still around 25 percent, that's still higher than the state average of 19.4 percent.
"In comparison to the state, our per-pupil expenditure has increased over the last five years," Malkas said. "Again, that is associated with an increasing level of need for our students. The level of need has certainly increased in the last three years as we manage the pandemic and recover from the pandemic."
Teacher salaries remain below state average but school officials have "worked very diligently to really focus on an equitable schedule that would attract and retain new staff," she said. The cost of the new teachers contract has added about $570,000 to the budget.
Per-pupil expenditures are at $19,460.82, with direct classroom expenditures making up 67.5 percent, benefits and fixed costs 22.5 percent and maintenance and administration the balance.
Through the Student Opportunity Act, the district has expanded full-day prekindergarten for 4-year-olds and instituted the Early College program primarily for students underrepresented in higher education.
A public hearing on the school budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23, at Brayton School, to be followed vote by the committee at 6 p.m.
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BAAMS Celebrates Three Years With Benefit Concert
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
Founder Richard Boulger is a North Adams native.
ADAMS, Mass. — The Berkshires' Academy for Advanced Musical Studies (BAAMS) marked three years with a concert featuring the academy's faculty.
Hundreds attend the benefit concert that was held Friday, May 26, at the Adams Theater.
"We at BAAMS are truly grateful and inspired as we celebrate tonight, at the opening night of the Adams Theatre our Third Year Anniversary Celebration of being able to continue to work with young musicians throughout Berkshire County," said founder and Creative Director Richard Boulger.
The nonprofit came into existence in 2019 when Boulger, a professional jazz trumpet player and North Adams native, brought a lineup of world-class jazz musicians to teach in the academy.
Voters at town meeting on Wednesday swiftly passed $5.1 million in spending for the next fiscal year with no discussion.
But other articles, including a proposal to open the town's capped landfill to a solar operator, prompted debate and amendments from the floor. click for more