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Mount Greylock School District's Draft Spending Plan Hits Towns' Target
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:24AM / Thursday, March 30, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School District on Wednesday presented the town's Finance Committee with a draft budget that includes a 3.16 percent increase in the town's assessment for fiscal year 2024.
That, in part, allowed the town manager to present a bottom line budget with no projected property tax rate increase for the coming fiscal year.
The Mount Greylock School Committee on Thursday will have the final say on the school's FY24 spending plan. The draft budget presented on Wednesday included at least one reduction from FY23 that several members of the School Committee are on record opposing: a one-year pause on funding a director of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the district office.
In his remarks to the town Fin Comm on Wednesday, Mount Greylock Superintendent Jason McCandless talked about the need for the district to respond to the needs of its member towns, Lanesborough and Williamstown, who asked the district to hold to a 3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
"We do realize that resources are not limitless," McCandless said. "Of course, I think what we do every day is the most important thing that happens in Williamstown, but we also understand that you serve a lot of people with a lot of different needs, and we need to be partners, and we need to have a relationship so we can all be aware and strike the balance that works for the people who live in our communities.
"Every single line within our line item budget wants to grow … our physical plant, the care and tending of that; our educational materials; and, of course, our human resources all challenge what we envision in working together with the towns. We not only have to do well next year. We have to do well five years from now and 10 years from now and 25 years from now. Doing well next year has to be in the context of doing something that's sustainable for the community of people who pay the bills in the community."
If the numbers in Wednesday's draft budget hold, Lanesborough would see an increase of 3 percent in its assessment from the regional school district — from $6,034,236 in FY23 to $6,215,126 in FY24, a rise of $180,880. Williamstown's assessment would rise at a slightly higher percentage due to its greater share of the student population at the Mount Greylock Regional School, rising from $12,853,355 to $13,258,887, an increase of $405,532.
The Mount Greylock district's gross operating budget for FY24 is projected to rise by $1.14 million, from $25,072,157 to $26,215,854, an increase of 4.5 percent.
That hike is after removing $176,000 from the central administration budget; cuts realized from not filling the DEIB post or a currently vacant facilities director position. And it is after making previously discussed cuts in classroom staff through attrition.
"We're spending time with our principals and looking class by class, section by section," McCandless said of the way those personnel cuts will be achieved. "We also spent some time using a tool that's publicly available looking at how many of specific staff members within the school we have that we can compare with other districts like us … and suggesting to ourselves there are some areas, without bringing harm to students, without bringing lesser service to students, necessarily, we could, perhaps be more efficient.
"This is an appropriate time to be looking at those things."
Mount Greylock Business Director Joe Bergeron told the Fin Comm that the cuts will not mean eliminating programs or cutting "specialists" in the elementary schools, like music or art teachers, and that the cuts would not impact the breadth of programming at the middle-high school.
The 4.5 percent increase in the operating budget while keeping the towns' assessments near their 3 percent target increase is made possible by an unprecedented jump in state aid, assuming the education funding proposed by Gov. Maura Healey survives the budget process on Beacon Hill.
Williamstown Finance Committee Chair Melissa Cragg repeatedly praised the Mount Greylock officials for bringing a budget that falls within the increase requested by the town.
"The Williamstown Select Board and Finance Committee collectively sent the message that, because of our highest tax burden in the county — and because our first meeting was the day after the vote on the fire station, which, when implemented a couple of years from now will add 6.5 percent to the tax burden — this was the year we wanted to bend that cost curve for our taxpayers," Cragg said.
"You have to do it some time. So this was the year we asked that of our partners — both the town manager and our dear partners in the school district, who took this very much to heart."
After the School Committee approves the budget — as soon as Thursday evening after its scheduled public hearing on the spending plan — the district will give a budget presentation to the Lanesborough Finance Committee next week.
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