Budgets for Williamstown, Lanesborough elementary schools head to committee for review

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WILLIAMSTOWN >> The proposed budgets for both Williamstown Elementary School and Lanesborough Elementary School are finalized and headed to each town's finance committee for recommendations before heading to the annual town meetings.

The Lanesborough school's spending plan for the 2016-17 school year is flat, with no increases sought.

Spending at the Williamstown school is projected to increase by less than 2.5 percent, or roughly $190,000.

According to Doug Dias, superintendent of both elementary schools and Mount Greylock Regional School, each school has unique aspects to its budget.

In Lanesborough, because there were so many cuts made during last year's budget process, roughly a $160,000 reduction, there was little left to cut, Dias said. But due to a teacher's retirement, the payroll spending had already been reduced, which helped officials maintain the same spending level of $2.7 million, reflecting no increase.

"It's not often to have a budget where you don't make any substantive cuts and still come in at zero percent difference, so it's not something we should get used to," he said. "And there's no place left to cut. There is really nothing else we could do."

An unusually large first grade enrollment of 21 students made for a larger than normal student/teacher ratio, which caused concern among some of the parents, Dias noted.

"The challenge there is the class size," he said. "It is bigger than I would like it to be, but not so big that the kids won't be successful. And I have faith in the teacher and in the principal to guide those students through their material."

Dias said there was a decrease in grant funding and income from school choice students at both elementary schools. But now that the new high school project has been given the green light by voters, he anticipates an increase in students applying for school choice as parents try to get their children into the school system early so they can attend the new high school.

At Williamstown Elementary, a couple of things put a strong headwind against their effort to balance the budget. One was a 14 percent increase in the cost of health insurance. Another was the depletion of the non-allocated revenue fund, which comes from school choice tuition paid to the school.

Dias said that should be a reserve fund, but it has only $52,000 left. So he hopes to replenish that fund during the coming years, thus reducing the ability to use that money for conventional operating expenses.

To get to a total spending plan of $6.6 million, Dias explained that the hours for a few positions were reduced, and the pre-school special education program known as Side-By-Side would be consolidated into two classrooms, reducing the need for one of the teacher positions.

He said the enrollment in the pre-school program was small enough to combine the full-day program with the two half-day programs and reduce the need for a position there. Some parents expressed concerns that students with special needs might see a reduction in services, but Dias said those will be maintained at the current level.

"They will get what they need in this program," he said. "All of the students in our pre-school classes will have a positive experience. I have no doubt about that."

With teaching slots reduced by two teachers and five paraprofessionals, several extra-curricular programs were also eliminated, including the fourth grade Shakespeare program, the Gardening Club, the Math Club and Lego Robotics.

"I absolutely do not want to get rid of them," Dias said of the extra-curriculars. "It was a hard choice to make."

Next week, the Williamstown Finance Committee will consider the Williamstown Elementary School budget and determine whether to recommend it to Town Meeting. From there it goes to the town Board of Selectmen, and then on to Town Meeting on May 17.

The Lanesborough Elementary School budget will be considered by the town's Finance Committee in early April, then goes to the Board of Selectmen and from there to Town Meeting.


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