Sunday, March 30, 2008

MGRHS board proposes 5.7% budget hike to towns, shedding science post; FinCom member says 4 positions added; mostly in special ed services

Reported by Bill Densmore

Mount Greylock Regional High School would shed a science teaching positionnext year -- but add four posts overall, including four in special-education services -- under a proposed $9.9-million budget – a 5.7 percent increase over this year -- approved by the school board. The figure includes a proposed $23,000 special appropriation which Lanesborough voters will be asked to approve over and above the town's mandated share of the regional district's budget. The board also welcomed a planned gift of 40-60 computers from Williams College. Two members of the Williamstown Finance Committee comment; saying the MGRHS budget is more than 2-percent above the FinCom's target and includes four new positions. (READ THEIR COMMENTS)

Other resource: Earlier iBerkshires story by Derek Mong

At the Wednesday, March 26 meeting where the budget request was approved, 7-0, the board also expressed thanks to Williams College for the planned donation of between 40 and 60 used computers. The special $23,000 from Lanesborough, if approved, will be used to purchase software and other resources for the used machines. While the IBM PC-class computers are three years old when rotated out of Williams, they are considerably newer than the machines they will replace at the high school, said Supt. William Travis.

The science curriculum will lose a teacher as a result of the departure of Peggy Talbot. Board members said a formal layoff will not be necessary because Talbot has planned to leave, but the position will not be filled. The loss will cause a rejuggling of classes and laboratory periods in the sciences. At the same time, a position will be added in Middle School, and four new jobs for special-education services would be added.

Williamstown Town Manager Peter Fohlin said the budget shows total staff proposed of 105 positions -- up from 101 positions in the current year, including 23 special-education paraprofessionals up from 19 and 55.6 teaching full-time equivalents, up from this year's 55.0.

The approved budget now goes to the finance committees and selectmen of each town for a recommendation to their respective town meetings. If approved without change, the Lanesborough’s assessment will rise to $2,157,811 from 2,137,753 -- a 1.0 percent increase. The Williamstown assessment will rise to $4,499,379 from $4,285,355 -- a 5.0 percent increase. A decline in the number of Lanesborough students attending Mount Greylock and a simultaneous projected rise in Williamstown enrollees is the reason for the disparity, which ebbs and flows from year to year. More Lanesborough students are choosing to attend McCann Tech rather than Mount Greylock.

Ron W. Tinkham, long-time board member from Lanesborough, explained that he and fellow Lanesborough board members would be appealing to selectmen to support a special warrant at Lanesborough town meeting for a one-time, special appropriation to Mount Greylock of the $23,000 -- about another 1 percent increase in Lanesborough's overall support for the school. He said such a one-time, non-mandatory, special appropriation would be legal as long as it was "to support a specific task that will improve the school." That task is the technology-improvement program, he said.

The school board voted to include the $23,000 "with gratitude" in its overall budget.

Science department teaching chair Larry Bell expressed concern before the budget approval that losing a science teacher could cause test scores to decline. He worried that parents and the general public watch the schools when they are published and that teachers could be judged negatively. However, members of the school board observed that the school's science test scores are relatively high, and that it was important to continue to focus on -- as board member David Langston said -- "how kids think, not always what they know." In that sense, said Langston, he hopes science faculty will still emphasize laboratory work and as for the score, said, Langston, "If they go down a little bit, they go down a little bit."

Among spending categories, the approved budget shows the largest increase – 11.4 percent -- is in buildings and grounds, followed by employee benefits (up $195,260, or 9.7 percent). The largest absolutely increase -- $150,794, or 4.1 percent, is in regular education instruction – teacher salaries. The district administration budget is set to decline 6.9 percent – or $28,650.

The budget assumes an 11.2 percent increase in state aid to $2,205,472, including a project 67.8 percent ($172,827) increase in school-bus transportation funding. Chapter 70 state aid – the bread-and-butter state aid for schools – is project to rise 2.9 percent, or a $49,661 increase to $1,776,888.

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