A student friendly report on the school committee budget meetings and the fiscal year 2017 proposed district budget

By Brianna Davis

On Thursday, February 11th, 2016, a School Committee Meeting was held in the library at Monument Valley Regional Middle School. The meeting’s main objective was to go over the proposed district budget for the 2017 fiscal year. For those who have never attended one, a school committee meeting begins with three strikes of a gavel by the chairman followed by a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The meetings adhere to a firm agenda established in the itinerary. The objective of this meeting was to display the budget statistics and to present the meticulous work and thought put into the budget.

Due to the strong objection from the public last year, the creators of the budget worked hard to avoid cutting BHRSD staff positions that would remove current teachers. Jeffrey Stevens, the music teacher at the high school, has announced his retirement after the end of the current 2016 school year. BHRSD will not be hiring a new instructor to fill his position, but rather will spread the middle school’s 5th grade band instructor, Michael Gillespie’s, responsibilities by appointing him the band instructor for both the middle and high schools. The budget contains proposed cuts to the art department at Monument as well. The working hours of one art teacher will reduce by half. These cuts were proposed due to the small sizes of art classes (ranging from approximately 8-13 students).

Another proposed position cut affects the elementary school. According to Muddy Brook Principal, Mary Berle, there has been a decrease in student numbers. One of the four fourth-grade teachers is retiring this year; however (in a situation similar to the high school),  the position will not be filled. To compensate for this new vacancy, positions will be moved around and transferred resulting in the reduction occurring in second grade where there is low enrollment. According to Berle, reducing the grade down to three classrooms will not cause overcrowding as each class will consist of twenty students or less. This shrinking of classroom numbers could occur in second grade or kindergarten. Both of these position cuts are not finalized and are open to discussion and change.

The public hearing regarding the FY17 Budget was held Thursday, February 25th 2016 at Monument Valley Regional Middle School from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. There was an impressive turnout of Monument Mountain students, parents, and staff members at the public hearing. Prior to the meeting, a Facebook page had been created with the name “Save Berkshire Hills Music Department” where many students and parents added posts that support saving the music program through eliminating the cuts done to the music department. With the help of social media through Facebook, the Monument Valley cafeteria was filled with students and parents for the public hearing. Approximately three minutes were allotted for each person attending the meeting who wished to speak and voice their opinions about the new proposed school budget. The large majority of the public’s opinions were in opposition to the reductions in the music and art departments. Many of the students came forward to the mic and read comments posted on the Facebook page. One of the posts came from a parent of two former MMRHS students: “Both of my sons participated in the music programs throughout their time there [… and] I believe that these experiences have shaped them into the wonderful individuals they are today.” One of her sons even made music his career as he is currently studying for a degree in Music and Sound Recording. MMRHS parent and former Spartan Robert Adler is the creator of the Facebook page and was the first speaker Thursday night. Adler emphasized the importance of music in Berkshire County as we are the home of giant music venues such as Tanglewood. Another speaker, an engineer,  stated that art and music are just as essential as math and science. One of the MMRHS art teachers, Neel Webber, presented the school committee with a petition signed by students in an effort to eliminate the cuts in the art department. Many of those who attended were impressed by the determination of the public who voiced their opposition to the budget cuts.

FY17 Proposed Numbers

Total Revenue: $27,364,934

3% gross budget increase to $25,350,059

3.89% net operating budget increase to $23,165,470

(The only difference between the two budgets above

is the reduction by Choice and Tuition Revenue.)

School Choice down by $106,840

Tuition down by $21,571

  • Allocation of Assessments
  • Great Barrington: 6.94% increase to $14,463,399
  • Stockbridge: 8.76% increase to $3,035,712
  • West Stockbridge: 3.35% increase to $3,006,832
  • Total: 6.66% increase to $20,505,943

Proposed Reductions

  • Operating Budget by $400,00 → $600,000
  • Net Assessment Impact
  • $100,000 from excess and deficiency
  • Spending in other areas ($230,000 – $430,000

Elementary School

  • 1 Teacher (Through retirement: 2nd grade down to 3 sections)
  • Middle School
  • Additional non-personal cuts made (stipends, supplies, and materials)

High School

  • Music Teacher Mr. Stevens retirement not replaced
  • 1.0 Art Teacher to .5 (Full to half time)
  • Elimination of 1 Paraprofessional (student graduating)
  • Supplies

District-Wide

  • Custodial overtime lines
  • Copier Maintenance lines
  • Internet Services
  • BA Professional Development
  • Gas/Oil

(Reduction in contracted rates)

  • Food Service Health Insurance

(Unnecessary carried contingency for additional enrollments)

  • School Choice

School Committee members include Stephen Bannon (Chair), Richard Bradway (Vice Chair), Dan Weston (Asst. Treasurer), Christine Shelton (Secretary), William Fields, Frederick Clark, Richard Dohoney, Jason St. Peter, Kristin Piesecki, and Andrew Potter. Also present and active in the meeting were Peter Dillion (Superintendent), Marianne Young (MMRHS Principal), Ben Doren (MVRMS Principal), and Mary Berle (MBRES Principal). The both budget meetings were filmed and are available to the public for viewing. The fully proposed budget is available online.