Sunday March 3, 2013

GREAT BARRINGTON -- With a large assessment scheduled for Great Barrington, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District School Committee has settled on budget cuts, but they may not be deep enough to satisfy everyone.

The district’s proposed budget for fiscal 2014 is $24.4 million, which is roughly $125,000 less than the current fiscal year. The budget proposal increases Great Barrington’s assessment by 4.27 percent.

In comparison, the assessment for Stockbridge will decrease 4.82 percent and West Stockbridge will decrease 9.19 percent because the assessment, in the form of local taxes, is based on student population from each of the towns the district serves. Berkshire Hills draws students from Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge.

In an attempt to alleviate the burden on Great Barrington, the district passed two motions saving approximately $58,675. The expenditures include the suspended purchase of a truck and plow, a reduction in electrical services for the high school, and expenditures that don’t directly impact education.

The School Committee will vote to recommend the revised budget for town warrant at the next meeting. Voters will have a final say at that meeting in May.

The recommendations provide some relief to retirees. The school committee recommeded about $102,675 in cuts, but $44,000 was allocated to reduce a proposed hike in retiree contributions to their HMO health care from 8 percent to the cost paid by current employees, 17.


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5 percent.

The contribution will 12.75 percent, according to Berkshire Hills Business Administrator Sharon Harrison. That’s more than more than they currently pay, but less than was proposed.

Balancing budget reductions against possible cuts that would affect student learning, the school committee was split between members that supported the flat spending proposal and others who requested cuts.

The school committee reviewed $300,000 in proposed cuts presented by Superintendent Peter Dillon. School Committee member Frederick Clark, of Great Barrington, argued for deeper cuts.

"I am not in favor of passing this budget imbalance with the three member towns. We have to find a way to bring it .... more equal and more fair," Clark said.

Clark, supported by committee Chairman Stephen Bannon, motioned unsuccessfully to reduce the budget by another $100,000.

Despite public opposition, and some from board members, Clark suggested the district cut a part-time foreign language teacher because the program has not been developed with no long-term goals.