With budget season fast approaching in March, Adams-Cheshire Regional School District (ACRSD) officials are thinking staff cuts are the only way to pare down each town's fiscal 2014 bill.
The district has set forth a preliminary budget, already subjected to cuts, requesting increases on town assessments of 16.9 percent for Adams and 9.3 percent for Cheshire. The increases would be just under $1.2 million in Adams and $237,000 for Cheshire.
But Adams officials have asked that the district halve the proposed bump by 8 percent, or $450,000. Such cuts would in turn lower Cheshire's increase to between 3 percent and 4 percent.
"The next round is staff cuts," district Superintendent Kristen Gordon said at a budget meeting Saturday. "There's just no way around it."
Paraprofessionals were named as the most likely positions to be targeted. However, Gordon added, the district already operates with "a skeleton crew in almost all areas."
District Treasurer David Hinkell agreed. "We're very, very short-staffed," Hinkell said.
According to Hinkell, a variety of factors combined to create the need for an increase in 2014.
"Decreased state aid, decreasing local revenues -- the only place we have to go is to back bill it with the towns," he said.
Other factors include a low increase in Chapter 70 aid in 2014 from the state of only $36,000, or $25 per student; several sizable one-time grants won't benefit the budget in 2014; more special needs students are within the district and, last year, Adams' assessment went up only $23,000.
Additionally, Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School (BART) continues to impact the district's budget.
Hinkell said ACRSD takes in roughly $9,500 from the state for each of the 84 Adams and Cheshire students who attend BART, but it pays out $12,000 per pupil, as assessed by BART. It also takes a $98,000-per-year hit in transportation costs due to the charter school.
"I think we have to start talking to our local legislators about decoupling the formula here so that the local district isn't harmed by it," ACRSD Committee member Darlene Rodowicz said.
"This is not a [complaint] about the charter school, it's about the way it's funded," Gordon said.
A portion of donations to the district go to the charter school as well, Rodowicz added, though a reciprocal arrangement doesn't exist.
Assessments are due to jump in the coming years in any case. According to Rodowicz, the state is attempting to gradually mandate higher local contributions, and, as committee member Edmund St. John IV pointed out, "we're spending the least per student of any district in the county right now."
In 2011, ACRSD was spending $12,017 per pupil while Mount Greylock Regional School District spent $16,975 and North Adams Public Schools spent $15,102.
Rodowicz suggested beginning a discussion with the towns over the matter.
"They need to start planning, too," Rodowicz said. "This is what the state's going to require you to do, it's not just about a one-year budget."
Interest payments on the $40 million Hoosac Valley Middle & High School building project are also due to hit tax rates to the effect of .39 cents per thousand dollars of valuation in Adams and .27 cents in Cheshire. In fiscal 2015, principal paydowns will begin.
The committee's next budget meeting is scheduled for March 6.