Central Berkshire officials aim to tap surplus to ease taxpayers' burden
DALTON -- Central Berkshire Regional School District School Committee wants to dip deeper into the district's savings in an effort to ease the taxpayers' burden of paying more for education this fall.
The committee has tentatively agreed to use $1.15 million -- $150,000 more than district officials proposed -- in surplus funds to help pay for the $25.81 million budget the school board is considering for fiscal 2014. The added revenue would reduce the proposed total assessment to the seven member towns from $15.17 million to $15.12 million for the fiscal year starting July 1.
The net increase of 1 percent in assessments is spread out over five of the communities: Cummington, Dalton, Hinsdale Washington and Windsor. Becket and Peru are the only towns anticipating an assessment decrease.
The School Committee initially approved the budget and assessments late last week, with a final vote scheduled for April 11.
If adopted, five of the seven towns must approve the assessments at their respective annual town meetings in order for the budget to be enacted.
The school board upped the use of surplus funds in order to get the necessary 10 votes from the 15-member panel for budget approval. The first vote at Thursday night's meeting was 9-4 with two members absent. Three of those against the spending plan were from Dalton, the town facing the largest monetary increase in its assessment.
"I'm disappointed this School Committee failed to address Dalton's plight," said Billie Henderson.
Once the extra $150,000 was on the table, Henderson, along with fellow Dalton representatives Peter Gazzillo and Katherine Caffrey, reversed their stance and joined the majority, 12-1, to support the budget on a second vote. John Conner of Hinsdale voted against the budget both times, as he favored spending cuts to help all the towns.
"If we want to find the money bad enough, we'll find it," he said.
The plan to use additional surplus money to pay for the budget also didn't sit well with school Superintendent William Cameron. He noted that dipping into more than half of the $1.8 million in available savings won't be easily replaced by other revenue sources in the coming years.
"I think the School Committee is gambling that Chapter 70 [state aid] will balloon or the economy will improve," Cameron said.
As for the $25.81 million proposed budget, that's a $170,000 -- or 0.66 percent -- increase above the current spending plan.
The $5.8 million spent on employee health insurance and other benefits reflects the single largest increase at $ 663,000. Additional proposed spending hikes include $81,000 more for professional development and a $12,335 boost in the line item to purchase new textbooks.
One notable proposed budget cut is the elimination of the family consumer science course at Wahconah Regional High School due to declining enrollment, according to district officials.
Cameron said it's hard to keep a program going with only 37 students spread out over five class periods. If approved, he noted, the $41,000 in savings would prevent a teacher from being laid off.
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