NORTH ADAMS -- The North Adams School Committee unanimously approved a $15.89 million fiscal 2014 budget, which utilizes $400,000 of the district's School Choice funds to avoid major staffing and programming cuts, following a public hearing Tuesday.
"It's a bare-bones budget," Superintendent James E. Montepare said during the public hearing. "We've had to make some dramatic decisions."
Approving a budget that has already been trimmed to the minimum has become a concern for at least one school committee member.
"I'm going to vote for this budget, as I assume all of us are tonight, but this is a superintendent's budget. It's not really a school committee budget," John Hockridge said. "We're told this budget is a bare-bones budget, so we can't cut because there is nothing to cut. We can't raise it, because we have no money to do so. But as a school committee, our responsibility is to advocate for the district. We have critical needs -- many of which are covered and many of which are not. There are many critical needs that never see the light of day because we are not able to fund them."
He added, "I think next year and moving forward in the future, we need to bring forth some critical needs and lay them out there for our friends on the City Council. They may be forced to look at them and cut them as well, but we have a responsibility."
Hockridge cited the loss of the district's curriculum coordinator, a special education teacher assigned to the Positive Options Program (POP) at Berkshire Community College as critical needs that aren't being funded in fiscal 2014.
"If I had another $500,000, I would spend it in a minute," Montepare said. "There are positions and programs that we couldn't fund in this budget, like the curriculum coordinator."
School Committee member Larry Taft said that he wanted to thank Montepare and his staff for putting together a budget that maintained staffing and programming, but said he was concerned about future budgets, as the district's School Choice funds would be depleted in the next budget cycle.
"We have some pretty inherent increases when it comes to salaries, which are just step increases," he said. "We're looking at a School Choice funds account that will only have $570,000 in it next year. There is a cliff coming."
Montepare said that while staffing levels had been maintained, it had been done with positions being moved to areas of need, positions being left unfilled and the replacement of four retirees with new teachers less costly salaries.
"With all of that, the [teacher-to-student] numbers at Brayton are still a concern. We're looking at three streets that share common bus routes, that we can redistrict," he said. "We think we'll be OK if we can redistrict some of those students. We have to move students or look at moving $160,000 worth of staff to that school to bring the classroom numbers down. We've also made accommodations and provisions to move the preschool program to Johnson School, which will remove 141 students and 20 staff members from the school."
The school budget will be submitted to the City Council next Tuesday as part of the city's fiscal 2014 budget.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email