South Hadley schools prep for nearly $1M in cuts next year

  • Hank Skala, the principal at Plains Elementary School in South Hadley, talks about the furlough that will happen in July. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hank Skala, principal at Plains Elementary School in South Hadley, talks Tuesday about July’s furlough. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Plains Elementary School in South Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hank Skala, the principal at Plains Elementary School in South Hadley, greets Donna Theroux and her two grand children Tuesday, June 4, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Hank Skala, the principal at Plains Elementary School in South Hadley, greets Donna Theroux and her two grandchildren Tuesday. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Friday, June 07, 2019

SOUTH HADLEY — A $950,000 funding gap is forcing the school district to cut administrative and teaching positions, programs and services and shut down for the month of July, which marks the first month in the new fiscal year.

The cuts, approved by Town Meeting as part of the town’s overall budget in May, are being driven largely by contractually obligated pay raises for school employees and a combination of rising special education and transportation costs. The expenses have placed a significant strain on the school’s budget, according to Superintendent Nicholas Young, who warned that the situation could worsen the following year.

“Cuts are never a positive thing for the school system,” Young said, “but we’ve really worked to minimize the direct impacts on students.”

The cuts include eliminating a vice principal position and one second- and one third-grade teacher at Mosier Elementary School; a reading specialist and fifth-grade teacher at the Michael E. Smith Middle School; as well as reductions in summer school teachers, social studies, music and art at South Hadley High School. Cuts to programs such as art and music, physical education and social studies were made to classes with little to no student enrollment, according to Young.

Elsewhere in the district, there are cuts to custodian hours and a facilities director position has been eliminated. Additionally, an assistant special education director and two district health assistant positions in special education have been cut.

All schools will be closed during July due to reductions in days worked for four school principals and one central office school business administrator.

Other positions will see reductions in hours worked, while the high school’s athletic director will see a $30,000 salary reduction.

The cuts come after the School Committee voted to request a $21.5 million budget for fiscal 2020, representing a $275,000, or 1.29 percent, increase over the previous year’s budget. The budget was approved at a Town Meeting in May as part of the town’s total operating budget. Most schools require a 4 or 5 percent increase to maintain level services, Young told School Committee members earlier this year.

Despite the cuts, the “vast majority” of employees whose positions are being eliminated will remain within the district in other roles, Young said Monday. Young said that he expects “less than five” of the employees who had their positions cut will leave the district, adding that some may choose to leave the district regardless of internal job openings. The positions were opened by other employees retiring or moving, Young said.

Town Administrator Michael Sullivan said at a School Committee meeting in March that the school district could arguably require an increase of $900,000 to $1.2 million to maintain its current services. But according to Sullivan, the town had already given the schools a large share of annual funding and does not have the financial resources to provide more money.

Speaking at that March meeting, Young said that the number of students enrolled in special education programs had risen from 282 to 372 since the 2013-2014 school year, requiring the district to add 17 special education positions in order to meet individualized education program requirements.

The district would require an almost $1.7 million budget increase to maintain level services, according to Young.

Mandated costs driving the budget gap include $1,224,275 in payroll increases; $364,645 for special education transportation; and $94,012 to largely provide door-to-door transportation for homeless students as required by federal law.

Young said efforts to preserve instruction in the schools have included going “leaner” on support and custodial staff, as well as middle management positions.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.