Layoff protests postpone budget vote in Southern Berkshire Regional schools

This article has been corrected to indicate that five of the nine positions recommended for elimination are either part-time or full-time employees of the district.

SHEFFIELD -- The School Committee of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District has postponed adopting next year's budget until next Wednesday amid protests from student and faculty about potential layoffs.

Recent revisions cut the proposed spending increase from 2.6 percent to 1.6 percent, leaving the total fiscal 2015 budget at $14.86 million.

That budget called for the elimination of nine positions, with five of the nine current employees. On the faculty side, Mount Everett High School teacher Roberta Sarnacki's position -- who teaches multiple class that includes conversational Spanish, instructional technology, a first-responder course, and other classes -- has been recommended for elimination.

At Tuesday's budget meeting, Sarnacki delivered a heartfelt appeal outlining her extensive school involvement beyond school hours that includes sports and dances, her recruitment of eight new children to the district, and she expressed her desire to stay in the school where her two daughters attend.

"My children don't want to go to school anywhere else," said Sarnacki, who said her children could need to leave if she finds a new job elsewhere. "However, if talented faculty and staff continue to be cut, as well as promising programs, by the time my children get to high school, this isn't going to be such a special place."

The School Committee didn't make any commitment that Sarnacki or any other positions would be spared, but they said they'd talk to the teachers union to discuss if there were any other way to achieve cost savings besides eliminating positions.

"We are here because we believe in quality education and there is information we have received on the budget that some of the quality we are here to defend might be sacrificed," said School Committee member Jennifer Sahn, of Egremont.

During the meeting, School Committee members also were surprised to learn that nine positions, including Sarnacki's, would be cut. The other eight employees include two part-time teachers, and four paraprofessionals, which includes two from special education, kindergarten and library services, and district employees.

Superintendent David Hastings was expected to meet with the teachers union, finance subcommittee and a representative from the School Committee on Wednesday to discuss parameters on how to draft a budget that would then be reviewed by the finance subcommittee on Tuesday.

"We don't have a plan, but the hope is when you sit down with the School Committee and delve into this, I am confident we can find something," said teachers union President Andrew Rapport.

Nearly a half dozen students from Sarnacki's CPR class came out and described her as an enthusiastic educator who goes the extra mile to bring real-world expertise to the class, and they said it would be "a very bad mistake" cutting her position. Two faculty members, including Rapport, spoke on her behalf.

Vito Valentini, who chairs the finance subcommittee, was the only School Committee member to object to the postponed vote. He requested the School Committee approve the funding totals and then find the additional funds within the outlined funding parameters.

The revised budget includes an overall cost increase to towns of 2.79 percent. The towns facing the highest increased assessment would be New Marlborough at 4.3 percent and Sheffield at 3.5 percent, while Egremont and Alford would see an increase of less than 1.75 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively The assessment in Monterey would decrease 0.7 percent.

To reach John Sakata:

or (413) 496-6240.

On Twitter: @jsakata


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