STOCKBRIDGE — As it begins to look toward a gradual reopening of in-person school and grapples with coronavirus pandemic complications, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District on Thursday quickly approved its fiscal 2022 budget.
At a virtual public hearing, the School Committee voted unanimously for net operating costs of $28.3 million, and a capital budget of $1.96 million.
Less state and other aid, the total net assessment to Great Barrington, West Stockbridge and Stockbridge, is $24.7 million, a 3.2 percent increase over this year.
Great Barrington pays 75 percent of those costs, since it sends the majority of students to district schools.
Because of a complex state formula, and the number of students from each town, Great Barrington will see a nearly 5 percent hike over fiscal 2021, an $18.4 million assessment; Stockbridge’s increase will be over 7 percent, to $3.2 million; and West Stockbridge will see a 3 percent decrease, also at $3.2 million.
Kristi Farina, principal of Monument Mountain Regional High School, asked that $80,000 be used to remove old, unused lockers at the deteriorating high school, to create an open space where students can display their work and collaborate.
All but School Committee Chairman Stephen Bannon voted in favor. Bannon said that money might better be used to lower costs for towns or to pay teachers.
But, several committee members said every little bit counts to improve a high school building that is “the bottom of the barrel,” as Jason St. Peter put it.
“It’s shocking,” said St. Peter, a member of the buildings and grounds subcommittee. “It’s our philosophy that we have an obligation to the taxpayers to improve even in this small way to make the experience for high school kids as pleasant and as positive as possible.”
Renovation and rebuilding plans again have been put on hold — this time because of the pandemic. But, frustration continues to mount over the state of the school, built in 1962.
Member Sean Stephen said “patching things” this way “is not going to do it” and a renovation is needed.
Parent Ellen Boyd said students also had proposed this work.
“So, I think it would be a big win for morale,” she said.
At the committee’s previous meeting, Superintendent Peter Dillon said the schools were working with a “skeleton” crew because of the pandemic.
On Thursday, he said there is hope for normalcy, since local COVID-19 numbers are low. But, teachers have not had vaccine priority, and this is holding up the reopening, he said.
The committee authorized him to write a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker and other state officials to ask that teachers be moved up on the priority list.
He said it would only be “symbolic,” and that, given the two shots, some teachers would “argue that they won’t achieve full efficacy until six weeks after the first.”
“I’m really happy to write that letter,” he said.
Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School is open for in-person school four days per week. Monument High School and W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School are in hybrid mode, open two days a week for most students and four days for those with special needs.