DALTON -- Central Berkshire Regional School District taxpayers could pay more for education this fall, despite district officials proposing a nearly level-funded budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The School Committee is considering a $25.81 million budget for fiscal 2014, a $170,000 -- or 0.66 percent -- increase above the current spending plan. However, the total assessment to the seven member towns of about $15.2 million is nearly $300,000 more than is needed to fund the 2013 spending plan.

The net increase of 2 percent is spread out over six of the communities, ranging from a 1.1 percent hike in Peru to nearly 8 percent in Washington. Becket is the only town anticipating an assessment decrease, of 9.6 percent.

Dalton, Hinsdale, Cummington and Windsor round out the seven-town district.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposed budget at its meeting, 7 p.m. March 14 at Nessacus Middle School in Dalton.

If adopted, five of the seven towns must approve the assessments at their respective annual town meetings in order for the budget to be enacted.

Central Berkshire taxpayers are being asked to contribute more toward the fiscal 2014 school budget due to a decrease of $128,000 in non-tax revenue, according to district officials.

"We don't anticipate a net increase in state aid," said school Superintendent Bill Cameron The spending plan also shows revenue reductions in Medicaid reimbursements and other income sources.

"We don't anticipate a net increase in state aid," said school Superintendent Bill Cameron The spending plan also shows revenue reductions in Medicaid reimbursements and other income sources.

On the expenditure side, the $5.8 million spent on employee health insurance and other benefits reflects the single largest increase at $663,000. Cameron noted the line-item is a budget-buster, accounting for 23 percent of the education expenditures.

"It's a staggering amount of money [that's] gradually eating away at this budget," he said.

Additional proposed spending hikes include $81,000 more for professional development and a $12,335 boost in the line item to purchase new textbooks.

Cameron says the increases are necessary for Central Berkshire to meet new teacher and curriculum standards in Massachusetts.

"They are intended to help our district keep pace with what the state expects from us," he said.

One notable proposed budget cut is the elimination of the family consumer science course at Wahconah Regional High School due to declining enrollment, according to district officials.

Cameron said it's hard to keep a program going with only 37 students spread out over five class periods.

If approved, he noted, the $41,000 in savings would result in a teacher not being laid off.

Taxing times

The Central Berkshire Regional School District has proposed the following assessments to its seven member towns to help fund the proposed $25.81 million school budget for fiscal 2014. Assessments subject to final approval at each community's annual town meeting this spring. Town FY2013 FY2014 Net change $$ Net change %

Becket $1,984,071 $1,792,583 ($191,488) --9.65%

Cummington 843,938 874,568 30,630 3.63

Dalton 7,416,638 7,749,035 332,397 4.48

Hinsdale 2,290,364 2,350,524 60,160 2.63

Peru 798,733 807,534 8,801 1.10

Washington 536,279 579,013 42,734 7.97

Windsor 1,000,562 1,014,741 14,179 1.42

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.