Budget wins Lenox School Committee support


LENOX -- A reduced increase in the school district budget for fiscal 2014-15, from 3 percent to 2 percent, has won support from the School Committee following a presentation by administrators.

The committee sought the cuts in order to realign school spending increases to the levels of other town departments.

Outlining the $87,411 in reductions at a Thursday night meeting, Schools Superintendent Edward W. Costa II noted that the "level-services" spending plan "represents everything we had last year and less." Additional spending primarily reflects negotiated collective-bargaining pay increases for faculty and other staff, as well as for non-union administrators.

Describing the approach as "peeling the onion," staying on the outer rings rather than core programs, Costa observed that "you will not see reductions in staff or programs being completely wiped out." The savings were located in the "outer-ring" periphery, he explained. He commended teachers and administrators for identifying the cuts.

"We've done it, and we've done it well, I believe," he stated. The cuts are all significant, he added, "but we're not removing reading, world languages. We've preserved core services but made the cuts."

"We feel there's a need to respond to parity with other departments," explained School Committee Chair-
man Don Fitzgerald. He cited discussions with Selectmen aimed at "trying to foster more frequent, better communication so going forward, they know more about what we're trying to do in programming."

He also noted that there may be years when various departments may need larger increases, such as 3 percent, instead of the recommended 2 percent.

Fitzgerald described the reductions as demonstrating fiscal restraint and a "unique sense that we're all in it together."

"There are a lot of assumptions and value judgments that go into a budget and how we do it," said School Committee Vice-Chairman Veronica Fenton. "It's important that we recognize that the 2 percent is an artificial number."

Commenting on what she described as revenues coming in above Select Board projections, Fenton called for a "vigorous debate" about keeping budgets low -- "what our community looks like, what our tax dollars should pay for, and hopefully a lot of people will come to Town Meeting and be heard on that."

"We have a social contract to create a community, take care of each other, provide schools and fire and streets and a lot of things," she continued. "In the end, we have to have a vigorous debate about creating the right balance. It doesn't mean spending money unreasonably, but it also doesn't mean running around like the sky is falling, because the sky is not falling."

The net operating school budget, not including revenues from school choice, now totals $9,060,050. Formal School Committee approval is expected following the required public hearing on Monday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

Among the reductions: A $1,000 cut in spending for elementary school Mass. Audubon field trips that cost $3,000 to $4,000; a $4,000 savings in copying machine repairs and maintenance expenses; $3,000 in world-language department textbooks and supplies, $5,000 in spending for athletic officials thanks to an increase in user fees, and $6,500 for grounds improvements.

Special-education cuts include a $25,000 reserve fund for potential placements in the program next year, since $25,000 remains from this year's fund. Additional trims in special education spending also were listed.


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