|North Adams Schools Mull Reconfiguration, Closure Scenarios|
|By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff|
04:00AM / Wednesday, June 10, 2020
The School Committee reviews budget scenarios at a virtual workshop on Monday.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — School officials are bracing for a worst-case budget scenario that could mean the closure of one of the three elementary schools.
At minimum, the district is anticipating reductions in positions. There's also the possibility of the reconfiguration of Brayton and Greylock schools.
But the end result is unknown at this point until the state can give the district concrete aid numbers.
"These are really just possibilities and considerations, and therefore subject to change based on the discussions that will be had tonight," Superintendent Barbara Malkas told the School Committee on Monday. "However, with that said, you know, COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the state and local economy as well as the national economy, and one could even say the global economy. And because of that, we are looking at some pretty significant deficit, as we go into planning for the FY21 budget."
State officials have warned school districts to be prepared for a minimum of 10 percent cuts across the board as revenues have fallen precipitously because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the School Committee was provided for a general outline of cuts
at 10, 12.5 and 15 percent.
A 5 percent cut equals from $800,000 to $1 million out of the budget. The first option, at 10 percent, would be a budget cut of $1,803,408. With estimated offsets of $1,196,049 from stimulus money, school choice funds, federal grants and special education tuition, the spending reduction would actually be $607,359.
Second scenario at 12.5 percent would be cuts a lot deeper at $2,254,259. Using the same estimated offsets, the spending reduction would be $1,058,210 and would require reductions in educational staffing.
The third at 15 percent would be a $2,705,111 cut, for a total of $1,509,062 in budget reductions and would mean the closure of an elementary school.
"I do want to say that our budget scenario priorities include, certainly always to the greatest extent possible, preserving our instructional integrity," Malkas said. "The district has made significant progress and improvement these last few years. I'm really looking to preserve those budgetary items that have been added, particularly in areas of personnel that are going to help us continue to move forward, even through this particular crisis."
The options were also based on data and enrollment projections and the way that resources might be reallocated.
"And, you know, with our difficulty in attracting highly qualified candidates, we really wanted to try to create budget scenarios where we limited the number of new staff that we were identifying for a reduction in force," she said, while at the same time abiding by state law and bargaining unit contracts.
Teachers with three consecutive years are awarded professional teacher status, while those without have to be notified in writing by June 16 if they may not be called back. In addition, any licensure waivers end with the school year.
All three scenarios would include shifting educators according to licensure and seniority.
Malkas and Business Administrator Carrie Burnett laid out the reasoning for the three options that get progressively more drastic as the cuts increase.
The 10 percent reduction would include: reductions in Central Office, Brayton and Greylock; changes to programs and capital outlays, and the elimination of raises for professional staff. Reduced positions are those that are not currently filled, resignations and retirements. It would also include the reorganization of the E3 Academy and the Northern Berkshire Academy.
That means one full-time equivalent teacher each at Brayton and Greylock elementary schools and not filling one Spanish teacher, who is retiring. The district would use an online program for the time being. It would also mean the loss of a .5 equivalent chorus teacher, one job specialist, one special education teacher at Greylock and a .5 equivalent instrumental teacher for Colegrove and Drury.
Four full-time equivalent van drivers would also be reduced. Malkas said the use of Transfinder software has created a better route system and some of the vans are old and will not be replaced.
The 12.5 percent reductions would mean restructuring two elementary schools.
Brayton would become a pre-K to Grade 2 school with four sections of each grade level, representing a 12-section school and Greylock would move from a Grade 3 to 6 school with three sections at each grade level, therefore also having 12 sections.
This would mean a reduction of four full-time equivalent teachers, four full-time equivalent paraprofessionals and 18 teaching assistants.
"The enrollments at Colegrove [Park Elementary] are very stable and at a capacity," Malkas said. "Doing this reconfiguration would ensure that class sizes are consistent across the district."
The 15 percent reduction would mean closing a school and would include reductions of principal, dean of students, special education coordinator, school adjustment counselor, clerical paraprofessional, two custodians and four full-time equivalent cafeteria staff (although those come out of the food services budget).
Drury High School is the least affected by these scenarios but Malkas warned if they moved past a 15 percent cut, it would begin to impact programs.
"If we were to go significantly below a 15 percent level fund, we are no longer able to consider consolidation, reallocation and consolidation alone," she said. "That is when we start to look at ... how do we protect the instructional core, and what programs are up for not being renewed.
"Rght now we have the music program, we have the arts program, we have PE programs in every one of our elementary schools. We have maintained a foreign language program at the high school, as well as arts and music program at the high school. Those programs we could consider if we had to go much beyond the 15 percent below level fund, then we're starting to pick and choose based on enrollments."
School Committee member Heather Boulger said she was hoping for more cuts in administrative costs, referring to the fact that "district leadership and administration" goes up 2.16 percent in every scenario.
"I can't in good conscience, even support an increase of 2 percent in administrative costs when we're laying off eight-10 teachers and scenario one," she said. "I just I guess I would have liked to have seen a scenario where maybe we looked at sharing some of the deans of students within the schools, or any other support staff that are more administrative in nature. Instead of taking her away from direct teaching."
Committee member Ian Bergeron agreed that "the optics on that last slide are terrible, but in all three scenarios a 2 percent increase?"
Malkas said there are only four administrative positions in Central Office at this point, herself, Burnett, Director of Student Support Services Thomas Simon and Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Kimberly Morandi-Roberts, three of which are required by state law. Two staff posts — an instructional technology coordinator and clerical paraprofessional — were eliminated.
The bulk of the increase is for a $12,000 legal services contract for special education. Only nonprofessional staff got a cost of living increase; no professional staff will get any raises.
Scenario 3 would include the closing of a school.
Boulger said she meant administrators in general and asked if there was a chance for combining positions such as deans and special education coordinators.
Malkas said there wasn't much difference in the caseloads between elementaries and the high school. Both the deans at the high school have different responsibilities, she said, that would be difficult to combine.
"I will say that we've worked so hard to really create a tiered system of supports around how we work with our students who have behavioral needs," the superintendent said. "There are folks who have an integral part in doing that work, the deans of being one of them and the school adjustment counselors being another.
"And I just don't know if by removing or sharing those positions we actually undermine the instructional integrity."
But, she conceded, "we're going to have to think long and hard about all of these when we ultimately have to decide."
Committee member Tara Jacobs was most concerned with losing programming, particularly in the arts and music, that are important for children's social and emotional growth and achievements.
"It's difficult to return services once they've been lost so I want to make sure we're preserving services that matter to our community and to our kids, for the time we are able to return to a more normal way of operating," said Jacobs. It's a unique time because of the pandemic apart from the budget issues, she continued, "I just want to make sure that we're maintaining important programs while we're making these decisions, and how they're being maintained because if they're shifting to after-school that, to me, puts them in danger of being question marks as opposed to definitive programs."
She advocated for a resolution to the Legislature similar to the one approved by the committee before at the start of the meeting that called for the federal government to provide more funding relief for education on par with that during the Great Recession. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 had provided $100 billion while the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provided only $13 billion of its $2.2 trillion for education stabilization funding.
Educators and school officials have been calling on the Legislature to increase funding for several years, saying public schools and colleges have been underfunded to the tune of $2 billion.
The committee also discussed the use of school choice funding, which would be $265,000 for fiscal 2021.
Burnett said the school choice account is projected to be $1.3 million by June 30, 2021. Currently there is $1.7 million. The district hasn't used the allocated school choice funds completely for this year but is waiting to see where it will end up regarding salaries and COVID-19 expenses.
Jacob suggested the committee could dip farther into the account with the understanding that it can't be a long-term solution.
"We can definitely look at those scenarios and take that into consideration as an offset to some of the things that we talked about," Burnett said.
Mayor Thomas Bernard said they did have to keep the short term and long term in mind.
"The notion that we're not going to have to dig deep into this revolving account next year is probably not realistic," he said. "What we use now to stave off pain might limit our ability to do that in the future."