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North Adams School Committee OKs Funds for School Study, Passes Budget
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
04:03AM / Tuesday, June 15, 2021
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Monday authorized the use of $300,000 from the school choice account to fund a feasibility study for Brayton School. 
The expenditure is contingent on the city being accepted in the feasibility phase of a school project. The vote was required for that consideration along with an approval of the City Council last week to submit a statement of interest to the Massachusetts School Building Authority. Both votes were necessary for the submission of materials by the June 25 deadline.
The school district is currently in the eligibility phase of the process, having been accepted in Dec. 19, 2019, to explore the possibility of renovating or rebuilding Greylock School. However, the state agency strongly suggested earlier this year that the district reconsider its options based on a looming decline in enrollment citywide and the costs associated with a full building project. 
Instead, the MSBA entertained the idea of accepting a second statement of interest for Brayton School if the city would consider a two-elementary school model. Brayton, which was built in 1991 to replace an aged building. Thirty years on, Brayton does need repairs — roof, doors and windows — and may requiring reconfiguring to accommodate an increased enrollment. The costs are considered to be much lower than a renovation of the 60-year-old Greylock and the Brayton has the plus of also being in the West End and attached to the Berkshire Family YMCA. 
"In order to move into feasibility, the city would need to set aside or go to the voters, to the taxpayers in order to obtain a set amount of funds that would be used to support that feasibility study," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "The two things that happen during feasibility are we would hire our owner's project manager or OPM. And we would also select a design team and begin some preliminary work on developing a design with respect to the Brayton project. ...
"If we were still operating through the Greylock project, because that was going to be a much more significant project, whether a full new school or a major renovation, the estimate was $750,000."
A portion of the $300,000 would be reimbursed dependent on the school being accepted into the feasibility stage, and Malkas, in response to questions, said the reimbursement could be returned to the school choice account or put toward elements of the project that are not covered by the MSBA. The school choice account has $2,026,763 in it, none of which is being used to offset the school budget this year. 
"We would be allocating that money, then the city would accept those funds and they would be used specifically for the purpose of feasibility," explained Malkas. 
Mayor Thomas Bernard, chairman of the School Committee, said, "the next step of this will be also to get a similar authorization on the city side at the next meeting of council."
The School Committee also, in a public hearing held immediately before its regular meeting, approved a fiscal 2022 budget projected at $18,380,596 and a differential of $611,522 in ESSER funds for an appropriation of $17,769,074. 
The level-funded, level-serviced budget has been reviewed a number of times with no changes since its first presentation to the School Committee in early May. It has been before the City Council Finance Committee and the committee's Finance & Facilities subcommittee. 
Business Administrator Carrie Burnett did have more information on the amount of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds. Of the $611,522 ESSER I and II grants being used to offset the budget, $481,522 would go to salaries for teaching assistants, bus monitors, behavioral technicians and Career & College Readiness staff and $130,000 would go toward technology, software, HVAC maintenance and capital improvements.
"Right now, we have about $100,478 in ESSER I to utilize toward this budget. And our ESSER II, which is in the final stages of being written to be submitted to [the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] is roughly $1.9 million," she said, adding she had put in a column on the monthly balance sheet to show where ESSER funds were being used to offset line item costs. 
The expected allocation from ESSER III is $4,249,541, which should become available in fiscal 2022 and can be used through fiscal 2025. ESSER funds can only be used for certain educational needs and largely targeted for aiding schools to reopen and operate safely and to address impacts from the pandemic. 
Included in this budget is pre-K programming, counseling services for middle school, college and career readiness, social/emotional support, and speech, occupational and physical therapy. 
"One of the things that all of our leaders and teachers are sharing is a much greater need for social emotional supports for students as we're coming back from all of the different blended approaches last year," said Thomas Simon, director of student support services. "The other element to it, too, is in terms of the way that we provide speech, occupational therapy and physical therapy, as we talked about many times ... we're in a very difficult position in terms of trying to fill open positions in these areas."
The district is trying to build these services at the very earliest levels in pre-kindergarten and build them into the general curriculum, he said. "That will have the ultimate effect of actually reducing our overall need for some of those individualized services. However, it doesn't actually reduce the need for those people providing those services, because we're just shifting it and doing it a different way."
There may be ways to deliver these services differently, such as through co-teaching, or having pathologists planning curriculum with teachers. 
"It is something that we feel is necessary in order to be able to kind of move forward and reduce our reliance on, you know, specific individualized services," Simon said.
The School Committee passed the budget in sections to allow for abstentions; City Council is expected to pass the full fiscal 2022 budget next Tuesday, June 22. A final review is scheduled by the Finance Committee on Tuesday, June 15.
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