LEE -- A small number of layoffs will be required in the Lee Public Schools to maintain current educational programs taxpayers can afford next fall, school officials said on Monday.

Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless has proposed a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2014 of $8.14 million, a $256,000 increase from the current spending plan of $7.88 million.

McCandless said the proposed 3.25 percent spending hike takes into account potential teacher pay raises, little if any increase in state aid and proposed staff reductions.

"We're looking at eliminating one or two positions," he said. "I don't see any way of getting through this budget process without layoffs."

He said it has not been determined which positions would be cut.

The Lee School Committee has begun its budget review process, which includes a presentation Wednesday night before the Finance Committee. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Town Hall.

The school board will continue budget deliberations March 26 and hold an official public hearing on the spending plan April 9.

Once the seven-member board adopts a budget next month, it will forward the plan to the annual town meeting in May.

The regular education account -- teacher salaries and other instructional expenses -- is driving the proposed budget hike, accounting for $224,000 of the spending increase. McCandless said that includes potential "modest" pay raises for teachers currently negotiating a new three-year contract with the School Committee.


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"Talks are going well, and I expect a settlement by the end of April," he said.

Meanwhile, school officials anticipate little help from the state to help pay for the budget increase. McCandless said Chapter 70 state aid for education will likely remain unchanged for fiscal 2014.

The superintendent also has proposed, for the second consecutive year, using $500,000 in school choice money to lessen the budget impact on taxpayers. In fiscal 2011, Lee had $710,000 available in choice funds to help pay for the budget.

After eight years, McCandless is preparing his final budget for the local school system. The Pittsfield resident is leaving the Lee Public Schools to become the superintendent of the Pittsfield Public Schools as of July 1, pending a contract agreement with the city school board.

McCandless hopes his successor in Lee will get to implement one of his long-range cost-savings measures: hiring a behaviorist for the elementary school.

"This would be an effort to keep more of our special education kids in the district [and avoid] sending them to expensive private schools outside Lee," he said.

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

What's next

n Lee school officials and the town Finance Committee will discuss the preliminary school budget for fiscal 2014 at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Town Hall.

n The Lee School Committee will further review the proposed $8.14 million spending plan at 7 p.m. March 26 in the superintendent's office at Lee Corporate Center on Route 102.

n The public hearing on the school budget is scheduled for 5:30 April 9 at Lee Elementary School.