North Adams Schools Closing in on Budget Gap

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee will likely dip into its school choice account to close a revenue gap for fiscal 2025.
The Finance and Facilities subcommittee was presented with a tentative budget scenario on Monday morning that would pull nearly $600,000 out of the school choice account and raise the city's portion by $100,000.
"We have been working very diligently to really maintain our priorities with respect to this budgeting process, which has been to maintain a high-quality, student experience and ensuring that they will still have access to things that are currently part of their educational programming, particularly the arts," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "We've also been really looking at how we might be able to better support our substantially separate programs because those programs help us to keep students in district. One of our budget liabilities is the cost of out-of-district tuition as we go into fiscal year '25."
Malkas said officials had really focused on the consolidation of the three elementary schools into two, which will result in reduction of 28 full-time equivalent positions across the board.
The subcommittee's first look at the budget came with a $2.4 million gap, prompting schools officials to accelerate the closure of Greylock School and the implementation of a grade-span configuration.
Director of School Finance and Operations Nancy Rauscher reiterated the district's options: do nothing and have a 12 percent budget increase; close Greylock and bring the gap to $1.5 million; close Greylock and change to grade span and drop it to $967,000.
Since the last meeting, the district has figured in an extra $63,000 for an additional bus and the likelihood it will not get an anticipated 75 percent state reimbursement in out-of-district tuition.
"Next year is looking like they're going to drop that to only a 70 percent reimbursement. So I've adjusted for that direction," said Rauscher. "We were hoping it was going to go up because so many other districts like us are seeing the cost of out-of-district tuition really skyrocket."
Instead, she said, so many school districts had qualified for reimbursement, they've "exhausted" the fund. Malkas said it was possible they could get extra funding but it would have to come through legislative action, such as in a supplemental funding bill.
The total increase over this year is estimated at $869,492 so far.
The administration's recommendation, at this point, is to use $574,305 from the school choice account and raise the local funding portion by $100,000, to about $4 million. This will result in a budget of $20,349,539, up $295,187 over this year, or 1.47 percent. These figures include an increase of $195,187 in Chapter 70 education funding, though that number may change during budget deliberations on Beacon Hill.
School-choice funds have not been used for the budget in the last two fiscal years — the budget had been supported by federal pandemic monies — but had been drawn down by $300,000 for the owner's project manager contract for the Greylock project in fiscal 2022 and by $800,000 in fiscal 2023 for the designer's contract and environmental work. 
"It's our job to ensure, support and direct administration, as you all know, to find the most economically feasible budget to present to us, to be fiscally responsible," said the mayor, as well as "adhere to the educational goals and thresholds and standards that we all want."
That was the reasoning behind deciding on a grade-span configuration, she said.
Committee member Tara Jacobs was concerned about the heavy use of school-choice funding.
"I just I feel like it's, it's not sustainable over the long term. So precedent-setting concerns me," she said. "I understand the numbers have changed dramatically, and is reflected, but I don't have a lot of comfort in in creating an expectation that's not sustainable."
Malkas said they were "scrutinizing every line" in the budget and acknowledged the possibility of an unexpected cost like a disaster or a family moving in with high-needs children. "We're trying to also be cognizant of and ensuring that there will be enough of a cushion that we're able to get through the year," she said.
In the past, about $200,000 to $250,000 had been used to offset the budget, Jacobs noted. 
Rauscher said the district is projected to bring in a larger than usual amount — $436,956 — in fiscal 2024. In the past, that had been closer to the amounts Jacob referenced, she said. 
The district will still have about $1.3 million in the account, or over 5 percent of its budget, the recommended reserve.
"So if we use that as our threshold, we're certainly above that, which is why we feel comfortable going that low," Rauscher said, even with the expectation of using it for moving costs when Greylock closes.
Member Richard Alcombright said not using the funds would mean adding more to the city's cost or cutting services.
Details of the spending plan are still being ironed out; the School Committee is expected to vote in May. 
Alcombright also said he'd "heard a little bit of angst" at last week's community forum about how the Greylock project would be funded. 
"This project has my full uncommitted, undying support, but there were some doubts in the room," he said. "I just want people to understand that we're dealing with a failing building, you know, that we can't support it with declining enrollments and capacity and other buildings, and a new model of education."
There was general recognition that district had been in the same situation fiscally in 2020 but the pandemic — and federal funds — had delayed the inevitable. 
"From a community perspective, we're almost appearing as if we're saying two different things," said Macksey. "But the reality is Greylock can't continue. So that's No. 1. And with that, we have this funding opportunity that we'd be foolish not to take advantage of. Because if we say no, we may not have an 80 percent reimbursable next time."


Tags: fiscal 2025,   NAPS_budget,   

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Weekend Outlook: Spring Celebrations, Clean-ups, and More

By Sabrina DammsiBerkshires Staff
This spring weekend, there are a variety of events in and around the Berkshires, including Spring Celebrations, music, cleanups, and more.  
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Downtown Celebrates Spring Week
Downtown Pittsfield
Saturday & Sunday
There will be various events to celebrate spring, including a beach and tea party, and a free Kids' Paint & Sip event.  
The featured event is "Where's Winston?" a spring scavenger hunt for images of the Pittsfield Police Department's comfort dog, Officer Winston, at a dozen downtown locations. More information here
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