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North Adams School Committee OKs $19M Budget for Fiscal 2023
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:43PM / Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday approved a fiscal 2023 budget of $18,757,788, an increase of 5.56 percent over this year. 
 
The budget is up $988,713 but Chapter 70 education aid is also up by an anticipated $1,070,575, or 7.73 percent, for fiscal 2023. 
 
The main drivers of the increase are salaries, contracted obligations, one restored position, and a new bus contract.
 
"The big change here is that I wanted to emphasize that we're restoring a performing arts position as opposed to adding it," said Superintendent Barbara Malkas. "We are adding a special education teacher at Drury High School that is for compliance purposes based on the number of students within individual education plans. We have also added a special education paraprofessional that is a clerical position here at the central office to support really keeping up and getting through the backlog of IEP meetings. ...
 
"We have increases associated with contractual agreements. And there are also increases associated with administrators' salaries, administrative salaries associated with contracts and this represents our expenditures by our budget."
 
Malkas displayed a graphic that showed 90 percent of the budget directly supports classroom instruction, including supplies, salaries and benefits. 
 
"So you can see that in North Adams we are spending the bulk of our funding — and this is inclusive of all funding — to really support our teachers and to support the classroom so that we're maintaining a very high-quality service delivery to our community," she said. 
 
The district will continue its full-day prekindergarten program and early college program, and that the third round of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, or ESSER, may be used to supplement but not supplant anything normall covered by the budget. 
 
"The plan that we've created for our ESSER III funds use is aligned to our district improvement plan but making sure that we are funding positions and programs that we will have to either think about continuing beyond FY25 or not continuing when those funds run out," Malkas said. 
 
The budget has a significant investment in social-emotional support, including through the use of ESSER funds, she said, and in advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and justice initiatives within the classroom.  
 
Member Richard Alcombright asked if the increase in the line item for substitutes was reflective of the difficulty in hiring teachers. 
 
That line is up $89,400, or 49.5 percent, to $270,000. This year's budget was $180,600. 
 
"We do know that there are times that we're actually telling people they can't come to work. If you're symptomatic you can't come to work. You have to test yourself. If you test positive you must stay home for five days, day one being the day after you testifies. So it's actually six. So that has has caused us to have some higher level of need for substitutes," Malkas said. 
 
Business Administrator Nancy Rauscher believed it was also related to an increase in wages by a prior committee for daily and permanent substitutes to keep competitive with other school districts. The daily sub rate went up to $115 a day and the permanent daily sub to $130. 
 
"I don't have the old numbers with me, but it was a significant increase and it was one that was much needed after we had looked at the competitive rates throughout Berkshire County," she said.
 
Alcombright thanked the administrators for being able to work within the budget to create behavior specialist positions to address children's mental health. 
 
"I just want to thank you for your creative financing, your creative thinking in providing more resources," he said. 
 
Malkas said the district is hoping to attract qualified individuals who will know they can get training through North Adams, noting the school district is working with Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on pathways to "becoming more proficient in teaching."
 
"That could be an entry level position for someone who aspires to be an education specialist or a school adjustment counselor through this degree completion pathway," she said. "So we're hoping that we're creating some pipelines as well."
 
Malks also cautioned the committee that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has told superintendents that communities would have to pony up for any testing next school year. 
 
"We are being told we have to anticipate that we will bear those costs as we move forward into FY23," she said. 
 
The committee first approved four separate transportation line items totaling $1,147,283 with member David Sookey abstaining. The line items relate to the bus contract with Dufour Tours, which is Sookey's employer. Then the committee unanimously approved the entire budget. 
 
The Finance Committee will review the school budget on Thursday, May 26, at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers. 
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