School Committee approves $22 million Berkshire Hills budget

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GREAT BARRINGTON — With relative ease, the school budget was approved, and a much hoped-for upgrade of dated high school science labs was saved.

The School Committee of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District Thursday unanimously approved its recommended $22 million net operating and capital budget for next year, and decided to move $40,000 from another fund to pay for new science lab equipment and install it at Monument Mountain Regional High School.

It also approved special education tuition agreements for students from the Shaker Mountain School Union and Farmington River Regional School district.

The budget faces approval at the May 7 annual Town Meeting by voters from the district's three member towns, Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge.

Earlier requests by committee members to make cuts that would keep Great Barrington's share of costs in check resulted in a roughly $174,000 decrease for the town.

But the $277,000 in total cuts also threatened much-needed changes to science labs at Monument Mountain Regional High School, which are mostly unchanged since the school was built in 1968.

Committee member William Fields had a solution. He successfully suggested moving $40,000 from an excess cash fund.

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"Any way we can achieve what we need for the science labs," he said. "I'm open to anything."

The total district budget rose 3 percent from last year, a $904,000 increase.

Great Barrington's $16.2 million share of school costs rose about 5 percent from last year. Stockbridge's share is $2.93 million, a 5 percent decrease; and West Stockbridge will pay $2.86 million, a 0.32 percent decrease.

A town pays based mostly on how many students from that town attend the schools. As a result, Great Barrington is responsible for 73 percent of costs, Stockbridge pays 14 percent and West Stockbridge 13 percent.

Another factor in the state formula is a town's overall property wealth and income levels. Great Barrington had a rise in these indicators from last year, according to school officials.

This rise affects the minimum the state says a town has to pay for its school costs, something committee Chairman Stephen Bannon later told The Eagle is a frustration — other committee members and town officials have also said this formula is unfair in the way it raises everyone's costs.

"The increase to the net budget is less than it's been in years," he said of next year's 3 percent hike. "But I'm unhappy with the minimum local contribution and the [state's] process."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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