Minutes – February 25, 2020 – Joint meeting with member town select boards and finance committees
BERKSHIRE HILLS REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
Great Barrington Stockbridge West Stockbridge
Meeting of the School Committee, Select Boards and Finance Committee Members
of Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge
District Office – Stockbridge
February 25, 2020 – 6pm
School Committee: J. St. Peter, D. Weston, S. Bannon
Administration: P. Dillon
Staff/Public: Jay Bikofsky ST Finance, Neil Holden ST Finance, Eugene Curletti GB Finance, Anne O’Dwyer GB Finance, Mark Pruhenski GB Town Manager, Ed Abrahams GB SelectBoard, Michele Loubert GB Finance, Eileen Mooney TheNEWSletter
Absent: S. Harrison, R. Dohoney, A. Hutchinson, D. Singer, M. Thomas, B. Fields, A. Potter,
RECORDER NOTE: Meeting attended by recorder and minutes transcribed during the meeting and after the fact from live recording provided by CTSB. Length of meeting: 30 minutes.
CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Steve Bannon called the meeting to order immediately at 6pm.
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE
The listing of agenda items are those reasonably anticipated by the chair, which may be discussed at the meeting. Not all items listed may in fact be discussed, and other items not listed may be brought up for discussion to the extent permitted by law. This meeting is being recorded by CTSB, Committee Recorder, members of the public with prior Chair permission and will be broadcast at a later date. Minutes will be transcribed and made public, as well as added to our website, www.bhrsd.org once approved.
Presentation of Fiscal 2021 Budget to the Select Boards and Finance Committee Members
of Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge
P. Dillon – Thank you for being here. Looking around, most of you heard this presentation at least once. Some of you maybe twice. I will go through it. Everyone has a paper copy and a copy of the assessment sheet. Sharon is not here today. She is feeling under the weather, so I made her go home to rest. I think this is informal and Steve, if it is ok with you, I will go through things, otherwise it is 43 slides. If you need me to stop just wave and we will talk about things or respond to questions.
Everytime I talk about the school district, I try to talk about our mission. You can read it here on the screen. I think we are doing that quite well. Our budget priorities this year are to maintain levels of funding that will provide high quality education for all our students; expand opportunities for student success and ensure equitable access for all students. Over the last several years, we have been doing a lot of work around access and making sure that a wide range of kids are taking and being successful in a wider range of classes. When we all went to high school, it was sort of like an A, B and C class and some people got to take really advanced math and the rest of us didn’t. We are working hard to change that so everybody has opportunities. Two other things that are going on constantly are discussions with Southern Berkshire about regionalization and discussion with Richmond about future collaboration. The Southern Berkshire thing is complicated. Now there is a new 24 member committee that each town’s moderator appointed and that group is going to do a lot of work. We got a $50,000 grant that we have to spend by the end of June to support that. Then the work in Richmond is on a much more accelerated timeframe and the school committee supports doing something with Berkshire Hills, exactly what that will be is unclear and that will get resolved in the next couple of months.
Things that we are going now that are going to have some financial impacts going forward are, stronger connections across buildings, aligned instructional approaches and targeted professional development. For a long time physically, we have been a campus but the connections between classes and the transitions between grades, the connection around curriculum and a whole host of things haven’t been as strong as they might have been. We are working hard on that. We are doing a lot of professional development and bringing people in to do work with all our math teachers, K to 12, to do work around writing and then specific professional development in other areas.
In terms of our budget, we went through the budget with our administrative team and came up with a number we felt was too high, then backed down from that. At the elementary school, our budget is going to eliminate one paraprofessional position. In that position, there is a lot of transition so we will do that through a retirement or someone leaving. At the middle school, we are going to use Title I funds there to cover our personnel needs. Title I is a federal grant for at-risk or low-income students. At the high school, we are going to eliminate half of an english teacher position and that is because we are a little overstaffed. We have seven english teachers and we think we only need 6 ½. We are going to eliminate two paraprofessional positions and then two years ago the school committee put in a CVTE position and we are going to maintain that position. As I get into some of the grants, I will talk about that a little more. The Berkshire County Retirement system, we contribute to that and pay the cost of it. Worker’s Compensation is the FY20 plus 10% and the other insurance is plus 10%. Good news and I think all three towns remember the Berkshire Health Group, but there is no increase in our health insurance going forward so that is great. There is a small increase in our dental costs but that is also with a small increase in benefits. Transportation is the CPI increase of 2.19%. Special education is the actual cost of transporting high needs kids plus that. Sometimes those numbers change a little bit. Technology, software/hardware, a slight decrease in district-wide software and we moved from one line to another, special education technology. In terms of texts/supplies/materials, we are spending more on english, math and science and decreasing in other areas. We had a big discussion today and I think we will be spending time in the next six months to rethink our approach to math. This is long overdue. We are using a very progressive curriculum in the elementary grades, which is great if kids come to school really prepared and it is great if teachers are really sophisticated in their understanding of it but if some kids come not so well prepared and teachers are particularly sophisticated in using it, it is not so good. Stay tuned for what we will do there. From a capital thing, we are proposing borrowing; the elementary has two chillers, the help control the climate in the building. One of them is non-functional. We are working with one and we propose getting another one. We run our own waste-water treatment facility and we have to replace filters for that. Each of those filters is in the $25,000 range. It is a big item.
What we are going to talk about now is the various cost centers. At all three schools, there are special services for students with disabilities and also english language learners and then we will go on and talk about the district office and some other units. These are the three schools in special ed services. Obviously the high school is the biggest of the schools so their budget is proportional to that. The good thing is most of our money and resources are in the three schools and when I get to the next slide, we could have gotten a level deeper and charged off my time proportionally with each of the three schools. District-wide is the district office plus other transportation and all contingency. There is a school committee and administration line, facilities and maintenance and technology and food service. Everybody ok so far? Ok this is our pie chart which is always a little hard to read. Salary and benefits is the bulk of it. Transportation is the next big one and then the other subgroups. It looks like we are spending less than a percent on professional development but remember this is the operating budget. We have a lot of money in grants and a lot of the grant money supports professional development. I think we do a good job around professional development and I don’t think we are under-resourcing it. It is just not presented in the operating budget.
The change in the gross budget is 3.29% and in the net operating it is 4.33%. The difference there is both choice and tuition revenue. Someone wrote an article attributing the decrease solely to a decline in students from Farmington River and that is part of it but it is not the whole amount.
The capital budget…we still have the bond at the elementary and middle schools. You see the principle amount there in the interest and total. We continue to pay that off over four years. In the back of my mind, we are obviously going back to the school building authority around a project. A great thing would be when we retire the debt on the elementary and middle school, to have new debt for a potential project. I think the worse thing we could do is retire the debt and have people get used to not contributing to that then go back and say we were just kidding, now here is a significant new debt.
Revenue comes in two big buckets from the state. Chapter 70 which is just general ed and Chapter 71 which is the regional transportation. School choice is at 1.25 and tuition at ¾ of a million then the MSBA money is just what we get reimbursed. The tuition one is where we are taking a hit and we are also pulling money out of tuition to help support this budget. Question from audience member: Where would the tuition kids be coming from? P. Dillon – I have a really good report I run every year, and off the top of my head, the towns that are in Southern Berkshire are Lee, some from Lenox, some from Pittsfield, Richmond and Farmington River, Otis and Sandisfield, we have a tuition agreement. Sheffield, New Marlborugh, Monterey, all those towns and then a small number of kids often if their parents work for us as teachers from Dalton or Becket. There is a close circle and a farther circle. From a parents’ perspective, if you are a choice student it is a little hard because you don’t get bussing. You could meet up on one of our existing bus lines if there is room but otherwise you are driving your kid to and from school. Question from the audience: Do you transport kids from Berkshire Hills to other places? P. Dillon – for every three kids we get, we send out one kid. We do a lot better. More people are coming to us but we lose some kids from West Stockbridge to Richmond for their K-8 elementary school and that is in part because it is geographically convenient. Richmond also does a nice job. My former neighbors when I lived on Long Pond Road, the mom was a teacher in Southern Berkshire, so she put her kids in her own car and drove them to school; some people choose one or another district just because of some philosophical reason. The nice thing about the regional transportation is for years the state has been funding that and that percentage has crept up quite a bit. The low amount was about 35% and for many years, it was 60, 65 or 70. I think this budget projects that it will be in the 80s. Question from audience: do you want to see any movement in the choice reimbursement we get? P. Dillon – I thought about that and I used to stand up at conferences and argue about it all the time. The issue is there are four or five ways that schools get charged or reimbursed for kids. They all happen at different times historically. The choice amount is $5,000 and may it happened 40 years ago or maybe 50 years ago, so that is just a crazy amount. It just is not enough. Every time I argue for the amount to change, elected officials don’t want to touch it because while our community gets many more choice kids than we lose, if the people representing our community who have to get elected by people in all those communities, actually made if $10,000 or $15,000 then Great Barrington would win tremendously and Sheffield might lose tremendously. It is not worth the hassle for elected officials to support that. Most communities it is the number you lose and the number you gain is about the same. In a community like ours it would be tough from a political perspective. There are two other ways. If kids go to a charter school, the sending districts get charged but it is a much bigger number. That is more recent. If a kid goes to a vocational school, the vocational school charges the full value for that and that is in the high teens if not low 20s. What would make sense is that the cost of a kid, is the cost of a kid and the money travels with the kid. Like the kid has a backpack and the resources go in their backpack and whatever gets them into an institution gets those resources but that is not the way Massachusetts is doing it. Question: So it is statewide: P. Dillon – yes, it is statewide. I would love to see that change and I used to argue it a lot in meetings and people would just yell at me to sit down. They effectively silenced me.
We get a little bit in Medicaid reimbursement and misc income. The other thing we have is excess and deficiency which is like the town’s free cash. This budget recommends using $352,000 from that. That is great because it reduces the assessments to the towns. It is also problematic because it is about half of our E&D balance and while E&D gets filled back up when we have left over money, running it down too low puts us in a slightly different position. This pie chart talks about our revenue sources. Again, the big blue one is the assessments to the towns, chapter 70 is almost 9.5% and 71 is 2.65%, school choice is 4% and so on. Questions about this part?
I will shift to the assessments and I think most people get this. The assessments to the towns are determined by three things, population of students in the town, the minimum local contribution and the net assessment. Every year the population changes slightly. Several years ago, we looked at a five year enrolling average and it ended up not being that much different. The trend is Great Barrington continues to get a little bit bigger every year and Stockbridge and West Stockbridge stay the same and often get a little smaller. This year West Stockbridge went up a bit. You see the difference between FY20 and 21. This is part of the increase. Question: You are saying the total number of students in Great Barrington are the percentage. P. Dillon – no, you take all the students in Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge; no the choice kids, no the tuition kids; and you calculate the percentage for each of those towns. Question: Do we expect an overall flat enrollment? Do we expect enrollment overall to go down slightly? P. Dillon – I think it is pretty flat. The number of intown kids is just around 1,000. If you look at 10 year longitude charts, we went down, then largely plateaued, then there are few tuition kids out there to capture but we have been getting more choice kids. The only bummer about the choice kids is from a financial perspective. It is not as much money as the other kids, then you get into the whole argument of does it make sense to do choice or not. It does if you are careful and deliberate and if you take the 26th kid and have to iron out a teacher and their grade then it is a really bad idea. We try to be careful and deliberate about it.
This is on the minimum local contribution. That is tied to the sense of the town’s capacity to pay as determined by the assessed values of each community. Then you end up with this and you will see a couple of things. The minimum local contribution over the years, there are slight changes. Really not so significant. The assessment to the member towns is here and you see the difference between 20 and 21 in each of the towns. We will look at it in the next slide so it will be easier to see. The total change to assessment is 4.7%. For Great Barrington, that goes up a little bit because of the combination of the change in assessment, the minimum local contribution and the percentage of enrollment. For Stockbridge it goes up quite a bit less and in West Stockbridge it is going up largely because of the change in minimum local contribution and secondarily because of the changes in enrollment. This is all reflected in this sheet I handed out so you can dig into that a little more if you want.
The only other thing I really wanted to talk about is in addition to our operating budget and this all sit outside of our operating budget, we do a lot go get grants. Some of the grants are entitlement grants and we just get them because we get them. Some of them are competitive. I will go through these relatively quickly. The first one, a big one, is the Special Education IDEA, it is a big federal grant for students with disabilities. It is an entitlement grant. Title I is another federal grant for students with economic struggles. Now we have two grants that are called 21st Century grants. These are highly competitive grants. They are multiyear, three year grants. One is for the elementary and middle school and one is for the high school and they support after-school and summer programming. It is a big deal that we got these and we were talking about it today, we sort of turned the district into a grant writing machine. Most of it is great because we get to provide all of these extra services to kids. Some of it is hard in that it makes it tougher for custodials because we are using the buildings all day long so we have less time to clean and because we are using our classrooms so much, they are getting dirtier and they need to do more cleaning. Title II is supporting professional development. Special Education Early Childhood is an entitlement grant. Title IV is english language learners. We got a rural health grant which is supporting our work with CHP and Macony in collaborative care. Under a new model, if kids have needs, we all get together and support them. Innovative Pathway grant is a vocational grant. Service Learning one is a competitive one. These are all competitive on this slide. Berkshire United Way supports our after-school program, Project Connection. We get rural school aid from the state which is based on our population density. That is also supporting collaborative care. Project Lead the Way is supporting engineering, computer science at the high school and Pathways to that at the middle school. In the last page of grants, another $15,000 for after-school learning, Berkshire United Way to support work with Greenagers. They do really interesting things. A federal Perkins grant to support vocational education; the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board around internships; STARS is a series of arts grants with cultural institutions and Berkshire Taconic Foundation supports projects for teachers. This represents almost $1.5 million. There is another series of grants, the Mass Idea grants, we listed them last year, they are three year grants so we didn’t include them here but when all is said and done, it is about $2 million a year which is about eight percent of our budget which we are happy about.
I am happy to respond to questions or thoughts. Question: The only point that I always make is we just want to continue discussions with other districts. It gets very frustrating at times relative to what some of the other districts perceive for the future but I think you need to stick with it. S. Bannon – we do the best we can.
Thank you. I think it is highly likely that the school committee will vote on this budget on Thursday.
Meeting Adjourned at 6:30pm
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
Christine M. Kelly, Recorder
School Committee Secretary