Belchertown OKs $27.7 million for schools

For the Gazette
Saturday, April 16, 2016

BELCHERTOWN — The School Committee voted unanimously Friday to adopt a $27.7 million budget for next year, which includes new programs and positions which Superintendent Karol Coffin said are needed, cuts other jobs, increases athletic fees, and eliminates the Grade 5 band.

The number is in line with the amount the town can afford based on what Finance Committee Chairwoman Lynne Raymer told School Committee members Thursday night .

The budget totaling $27,734,631 for the fiscal year beginning July 1 represents a 2 percent increase over this year’s spending plan of $27,113,992. The increase is below what it would take to provide current services when built-in cost increases are taken into account, according to Coffin. It also does not cover what Coffin considers needs that cannot be ignored.

The budget does include $65,000 to hire a school adjustment counselor along with money for six part-time paraprofessionals, a speech and language pathology assistant and a van nurse.

Coffin also plans to spend more than $26,000 to take steps toward improving instruction in science, technology, engineering and math, often referred to as STEM subjects.

In order to pay for those additions to the budget, Coffin said she would have to cut in other areas. Those include the fifth grade band, which will save $27,950. She also plans to cut a line item for supplies by $20,000 and to reduce her maintenance budget by $42,000.

Beyond that she plans to lay off one high school teacher, for a savings of $44,000, and to leave unfilled a position that will be vacated due to a resignation at the Chestnut Hill Community School. She will also eliminate a half-time reading specialist at the Swift River Elementary School.

At a meeting last week, Coffin said she was considering cutting junior varsity athletics, but the School Committee voted Friday to increase athletic fees across the board instead.

School Committee Chairman Richard Fritsch said the additional fees will likely bring in an extra $23,000 which will cover the $20,000 cost of saving junior varsity sports. The extra money will go toward scholarships for students who cannot afford to pay the full fees.

“This has been a very difficult process,” said Coffin during the School Committee meeting held in the auditorium of the Chestnut Hill Community School.

In approving next year’s budget on a 4-0 vote, School Committee members  recognized that they did not have the authority to determine specific line items within the budget. But they asked Coffin to make saving the fifth grade band program a priority in the event that unanticipated revenue becomes available.

At a joint meeting of the Finance and School Committees along with the Select Board on Thursday night, the discussion turned to whether Belchertown should consider asking voters to approve a Proposition 2 ½ override vote in order to support the schools and other town needs.

At Friday’s meeting of the School Committee, Coffin urged supporters of the schools to start thinking about the budget process that will take place a year from now with an eye toward building support for making additional revenue available for preserving the quality of the schools.

Eric Goldscheider can be reached at eric.goldscheider@gmail.com.