WILLIAMSTOWN — With two town meetings coming up, the Mount Greylock Regional School budget is ready for approval with an operational spending increase of 3.91 percent, which grows to 20.75 percent when the first debt service payment toward the construction of a new high school is added to the formula.
The good news, at least for Lanesborough taxpayers, is that for the first time, the new regional agreement has kicked in, which bases each town's share of the school budget on the enrollment and property assessment levels from year to year. This year, Lanesborough's share decreased due to fewer students being enrolled at the high school and a lower overall property assessment, resulting in a 4.2 percent decrease in its portion of the cost of the school budget.
It is estimated that at the start of school in the fall, there will be 13 fewer students coming from Lanesborough.
As a result, Lanesborough's share of the fiscal 2017 budget will be 31.79 percent, and Williamstown's share will be 68.21 percent.
The total operating budget for 2017 will be $12.8 million, which includes a $413,211 increase in operational spending and the first-time debt service payment of $1.8 million, according to figures provided by Superintendent Douglas Dias.
In March, both towns approved in a debt exclusion vote the spending of $64.8 million for the new high school project.
Dias said that because the school went through a number of operational spending cuts in the last budget cycle, there wasn't much room left to cut, although the cost of heating the building and the cost of snow removal this past winter were under budget, which helped somewhat.
But for next winter, that amount still needs to be budgeted because of the volatility of energy prices and the uncertainty of New England winters. Also working against them was the 14 percent increase in the cost of employee health insurance.
"We had the benefit of last year's budget cuts, but we are so thin at this point that I'm concerned about the next few years," Dias said. "If you keep cutting, sooner or later you're going to hit bone, and now we've hit the bone."
Going forward, he said, the priority will be to maintain class sizes, which he called "one of the most important factors in a quality education."
At a recent Mount Greylock School Committee meeting, the committee voted to make the first debt service payment for the construction bonds, including $630,812 to pay down the debt principal, in addition to the $1.15 million in interest, for a total payment of $1.78 million.
The alternative would have been to pay just the interest amount, putting of the principal cost until later. But by paying down the principal, the district will save money on interest over time, so the committee endorsed the plan to pay both principal and interest.
Lanesborough's share of the debt service payment will be $560,993, and Williamstown's share will be $1.2 million.
Both towns' finance committees endorsed the debt service plan unanimously.
Final calculations might alter the debt service payment amount slightly, and if it does that would be adjusted during the town meetings with an amendment.
The overall budget will now go to both finance committees and select boards for their recommendations, and then on to both town meetings for final approval.
Contact Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.