I spent this past Wednesday evening at the John Zon Community Center for the Greenfield School Committee’s public hearing on the proposed FY25 budget for the Greenfield Public Schools. The hearing ran about two and a half hours and included public comment, a presentation by Superintendent Christine DeBarge providing an overview of her proposed budget, and a line-by-line walk-through of the budget by DeBarge and Andy Paquette, the district’s business manager.

At the end of the evening and following a fair amount of discussion and Q&A with both DeBarge and Paquette, the School Committee voted to accept the superintendent’s proposed budget as the School Committee’s budget. Mayor DeSorgher abstained, but all other members voted in support of the superintendent’s budget.

Overall, the proposed FY25 budget for Greenfield Public Schools comes in at $27,755,280. That is an 8.04% decrease from the overall current FY24 budget (which is $28,786,645). However, the local portion of the proposed FY25 budget—the portion paid for by municipal appropriations rather than grant funding—is up 5.29% from the local portion of the FY24 budget.

What is going on here is that much of the pandemic-era grant funding—mainly the ESSER grants—is coming to and end and the district is having to take a bunch of stuff that has been funded out of these grants and absorb it into the local portion of the budget. This process has been happening for a while now; if the district doesn’t move these items out of the grant-funding bucket, they will face a major shortfall when the grants come to an end. DeBarge reviewed of list of 10-12 significant line items in this category, everything from an Elementary Library Media Specialist, to IT equipment and support, to field trip transportation costs. It’s a lot.

According to DeBarge, she compiled this budget from the requests made by each of the school principals and the department heads, as well as guidance from the School Committee and feedback from the community. The budget includes funding for an Assistant Special Education Director, an Elementary Instrumental Music Teacher, English Learner Teacher, a Float Custodian, IT staff, and a HR/School Committee support position. She described the budget as being aligned with the district’s strategic plan.

During the detailed review of all the line items in the proposed budget, much of the conversation was about specific numbers that looked to be going up or down. Per DeBarge and Paquette, much of this oscillation is either contractually obligated salary adjustment or movement of costs from one line item to another within the budget. There was a sidebar during the discussion about the unnecessary complexity of Greenfield’s budget and a longer-term effort to consolidate it into a more practical structure that aligns with the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE) reporting requirements.

The superintendent also presented some fairly encouraging data showing significant improvements in both the district’s chronic absentee rate as well as the RIT scores that measure student performance in Math and English Language Arts (ELA). She noted that while the district is still not happy with where these number are, the improvements are worth celebrating.

From here, the budget goes to the mayor’s office to be integrated into the city’s comprehensive FY25 budget. As I noted above, Mayor DeSorgher (who, per the city charter, is a member of the School Committee) abstained from the vote at this meeting. She explained that since she would be considering the overall city budget, she felt she should not vote on this budget. She also hinted that she is anticipating a potentially significant bump in the city’s health insurance rates; given that comment and the detailed questions she was asking about specific amounts of money left in the district’s revolving funds, I would anticipate another tight and possibly contentious budget season this spring.