Berkshire Hills compromise retains part of music director position

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> The Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee has voted to support an amended fiscal 2017 school budget that restores — at least partially — the position of district musical director.

In a 9-1 vote on Thursday night, the committee also restored the full-time position of a second-grade teacher, and a half-time art teacher's post, both of which had also been on the chopping block in the preliminary budget. In addition, a total of $13,000 in supplies were restored.

In order to make these additions revenue-neutral, the committee cut $100,000 from the high school renovation budget, $25,000 from the technical education budget and took an additional $25,000 from the excess and deficiency account — a "rainy day" fund the district maintains for unexpected contingencies. The committee has the discretion to use it in other ways, however.

These restorations mean the district would have 4.6 positions in the music department in fiscal 2017, as opposed to five positions this year.

The preliminary budget had called for the elimination of the position of musical director, a post held by Jeffrey Stevens, who is retiring after more than 30 years. His duties were districtwide.

But the committee reached a compromise after a group of 100 or so students, parents and alumni attended a budget hearing to decry the elimination of the position.

Many spoke of the quality of the program, and said that cutting the position would ensure a drop in quality. Others observed that the music program is one of the signature programs in the county and beyond.

"The high school band program was never affected," said School Committee Chairman Steven Bannon. He said the committee believed that the department could function nearly as well by observing "certain efficiencies."

In defending the proposed cuts, Finance Committee Chairman Michael Wise said the town faced an increase of nearly $1 million in its assessment under the preliminary budget.

Although the overall increase in the budget is 3.1 percent, a dearth in overall receipts has pushed the overall assessments to the three member towns to 6.66 percent.

This breaks down to a 7.7 increase in Great Barrington; a 7.6 percent hike in Stockbridge and a slight jump of 0.23 percent in West Stockbridge.

The committee also approved the district's capital budget of $1.8 million, which was down slightly from this year.

On the revenue side, the district's school choice funds are at $1.2 million, a $110,000 drop, while tuition revenue is at $947,000, a $27,000 drop. The district will also be using a total of $350,000 from its E&D account, the same as this year.

State Chapter 70 funds were up about $220,000 to $2.7 million, while Chapter 71 funding (transportation aid) was level-funded at $357,000.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-651.


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