LENOX -- Following a series of final, 11th-hour budget meetings, the Lenox Select Board, Finance Committee and the School Committee are on the same page, with level-service spending plans for fiscal 2015, holding property tax increases to an anticipated 2 percent.

Subject to voter approval at the May 1 annual meeting, the town proposes to spend just over $23,750,000 during the year beginning July 1, an overall increase of slightly under 1 percent.

School Department spending would total $11,417,000 in operating costs plus benefits, which reflects revenue of $1,284,000 in school choice receipts, non-choice tuition and other fees.

The School Committee cut $87,411 from its operating budget proposal in order to hold its increase over last year to 2 percent, parallel to other town departments.

In addition, the town would spend nearly $1.1 million on debt service, insurance, bonds and vocational education expenses for the school district.

"It’s level services," Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II declared at the School Committee’s most recent public session. "That means the same people, with some trimmings, doing less with some of our operations, but nothing new inside our budget, no new initiatives."

Continuing priorities, he explained, are to "maintain our existing quality programs for our students and to maintain the current quality existing staffing for those programs." He also noted that federal law requires the school district to educate all special-needs students from age 3 through 22.

"In Lenox, 70 cents of the dollar goes right to the classroom," said Costa, 2 cents higher than the national average. "We’re doing the right thing, putting more money in the classroom, keeping the organization flat."

"The way the budget’s been built, it’s pretty fiscally responsible," said School Committee Chairman Don W. Fitzgerald. "It is in line with other departments, and I think that shows an ‘all of us are in it together’ attitude. We’re just going to have to be a little more lean." The committee approved the budget unanimously.

A three-way, early-morning meeting of the Select Board, Finance Committee and members of the School Committee -- which began with the official swearing-in ceremony for new Town Manager Christopher Ketchen -- produced an accord last week on the budget and other items for the Town Meeting warrant.

"We had a minimal real-estate tax increase," said Select Board Chairman David Roche, "and yet we were able to keep everybody who’s employed, we didn’t lose a single job and everybody got a raise."

"We’ve got a long road ahead and a lot of challenges facing us," he acknowledged, "but we got through last year and we’re going to get through this year with this budget, hopefully with no surprises."

To contact Clarence Fanto:
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or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto