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Berkshire Hills budget is ‘potential fiscal crisis’

In his letter to the editor, Fred Clark writes: “School budgeting must shift from a reactive mode to a strategic budgeting approach taking into consideration long-term needs and resources.”

To the editor:

I voted against the school budget twice — once at the School Committee level and once here at Town Meeting to call attention to the potential fiscal crisis that is our school budget. It was my hope that in doing so people would start talking and listening to each other and to look for solutions.

As a School Committee member I believe that my responsibility is to balance the educational needs and available resources. This budget does a good job providing for education with dollars going to support what we say we care about. It is the resources test where it fails with the Great Barrington assessment going up 4.5 percent last year and over 6 percent this year. We must get on top of this because at this rate it is out of control. At a time when we read of neighboring Berkshire county school budgets rising 1 or 2 percent the increase in the Berkshire Hills budget is too high.

We also must renovate Monument to maintain the high quality education that our community expects. Unless we can get a handle on the rise in the annual operating budget it will be difficult to be back here in a couple of years asking for renovation funding.

There are many contributors to our budget woes. Several issues have been debated from a low School Choice reimbursement, to tuition below the cost to deliver services, to issues among towns arising from the regional agreement formula, and a reduction in the state support for schools. All of those are valid and should be worked on but none are easy or wholly within our control.

School budgeting must shift from a reactive mode to a strategic budgeting approach taking into consideration long-term needs and resources. We should examine our relationship to the healthcare cost structure which the School Committee has had little control over and have often arrived as surprises late in the budget process. In 2017 we will be negotiating new contracts. We must keep in mind the affect that the present 3 percent annual raises (5 and 6 percent when including step raises) will have on the cost of our schools.

This community has always provided overwhelming support for our schools. We have schools and staff that we can be proud of. To continue their fine work we need to understand the forces acting on our school budget and work together to meet those goals.

Fred Clark

Great Barrington

The writer is a member of the Berkshire Hills Regional School Committee. The above letter was read into the record of Monday’s (June 13) special town meeting.

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