STOCKBRIDGE — Amid some gains, concerns of “learning loss” and a “skeleton” crew due to COVID-19 fears, the Berkshire Hills Regional School District’s School Committee on Thursday presented its proposed new budget for 2021-2022.
Superintendent Peter Dillon said the district’s priority for next year is full in-person learning, and that educators will have to address “pandemic impacts” to students like “isolation, mental health, disconnection.”
“And I have to say this very carefully: issues connected to learning — learning loss,” he added.
For what Dillon said is a “lean” budget, operating and capital expenses are up 3.2 percent over last year in a $24.7 million budget. Last year’s increase was 4.7 percent.
Salaries, benefits, educational supplies and materials are part of the increase.
Because of a complex state formula, and the number of students from each town, Great Barrington will see a nearly 5 percent hike over last year, 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.
A public hearing on the budget will be held Feb. 25.
On a Zoom call, Dillon told the committee that with community COVID-19 numbers low, “we’re in really good shape,” and that Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School has returned to four days a week of in-person learning.
Students throughout the district also have been learning remotely.
“The thing I’m most excited about is, kids are back in school in a variety of ways,” he said.
He cautioned that social and educational support will be needed when full reintegration of students happens next year — if indeed it does.
At Monument Mountain Regional High School, there are concerns about social distancing. Committee members Jason St. Peter and Richard Dohoney noted that high schools have low viral spread, and that at some point, distances can be relaxed. But, teachers apparently still are nervous.
“We’re juggling staffing issues,” Dillon said. “We’re doing well, but we’re very much operating with skeleton staffing right now and if too many additional people were out, it could really jeopardize what we’re doing.”
Dillon cited a variety of reasons, including staff working “remotely for medically documented reasons” and the retirement of some staff as well as “normal things.” He also said that, in the past, staff might come to work if they had a runny nose or sore throat. But, not now.
“We don’t want anybody to suck it up and come to work,” he said.
Dillon posted an ad on Facebook on Thursday to recruit substitute teachers and paraprofessionals. He said the district had the ability to set its own pay rate for the much-needed substitutes.
He said a few good things have emerged: smaller classes at the elementary school have brought about student “connection and success.”
“It’s quite wonderful,” he said.