Monson Superintendent of Schools Cheryl Clarke discusses the preliminary FY25 budget with the School Committee.
Reminder Publishing photo by Laura Mason

MONSON — During its March 20 meeting, the Monson School Committee approved the preliminary fiscal year 2025 budget as presented by Superintendent Cheryl Clarke, Granite Valley School and Early Childhood Center Principal Joseph Trivisonno, and Director of Special Education Colette Bidus.

With the committee’s preliminary approval, the budget can now be presented to the Select Board for approval, Clarke said.

The presented preliminary budget totaled $10.6 million or $38,329 more than the FY24 budget. In creating the preliminary budget, Clarke, Trivisonno and Bidus highlighted multiple factions that were considered, including enrollment and School Choice.

One change Clarke discussed was the loss of Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, which is a statewide reduction, as well as the increase of Title 1 funds by about $20,000. She also noted that the before- and after-school care program, MPS Extend, was expected to increase in revenue by $15,000.

While reviewing the budget’s impact to each of the three public schools, Clarke stated that “some of the changes may look drastic but the impacts we have been able to kind of mitigate and absorb.”

For the Early Childhood Center, Clarke explained that preschool sections would be reduced, resulting in the elimination of a preschool teacher and instructional aide. Additionally, an ESSER-funded instructional aide will also be removed, which was expected due to the loss of ESSER funds, Clarke said.

These changes could result in more students being placed on the preschool waiting list. However, if kindergarten enrollment does not require its current five teaching positions, one teacher could transition to teach preschool, Clarke said. She noted that the teacher would be licensed to teacher both kindergarten and preschool if moved.

At Granite Valley, two ESSER-funded positions were proposed to be eliminated. Four other positions were also recommended to be reduced by the administrative staff, including two teachers, a building aide and an administrative assistant. A part-time health teacher for grades 4-6 will also be added to the elementary school in order to teach the new health curriculum, Clarke said. While class sizes would change, all six grades’ class sizes would continue to have 20 students or less.

For Monson High School, Clarke highlighted a reduced enrollment compared to Granite Valley and the Early Childhood Center due to students attending other schools, such as Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical School. As a result, the schedule was modified accordingly.

“I guess I could categorize it as kind of tightening up the schedule; not cutting any programs or offerings but just kind of tightening up the way we do things,” she said.

With this approach, the administrative team recommended the reduction of five teaching positions and an ESSER-funded guidance counselor as well as not filling a currently open half-time guidance administrative assistant position. Furthermore, Clarke also stated that the team was recommending that the assistant principal position be modified to a dean of students and director of counseling position.

“What we are seeing at the high school is that the kids are needing a lot of social emotional support, behavioral but not in a punitive way … this person would assist and facilitate that with the other two counselors that would remain at the high school and then also bridge the counseling across the district,” Clarke said while explaining the recommended modification.

Concerning the “tightening” of the high school schedule, Clarke explained that similar classes may be consolidated if few students are taking the courses, but that the available offerings would not change. She explained that this would also help with ensuring teachers’ responsibilities are better balanced.

Within special education services, staff may be moved to other grades levels or programs in order to meet students’ needs, Bidus said. She highlighted that special education programs at the high school will be modified to fit students based on their need level, rather than on their grade levels.

Other changes to the budget included the elimination of the summer bus tour, a request for limited public use of the school buildings in order to reduce custodian overtime and changing the In the Loop district newsletter to a high school journalism elective course.

Because the presented budget was preliminary, a vote was not taken at the March 20 meeting.

Monson High School principal and assistant principal

At the March 20 meeting, a brief discussion was also raised by residents concerning a note sent to families that stated Monson High School Principal Arthur Murphy and Assistant Principal Kate Czarniecki were “out.”

Sent by Clarke, the note stated that Clarke and Counselor Maria Barnes would be maintaining “day-to-day operations and ensuring both staff and students are supported” during this time.

In a conversation with Reminder Publishing, Clarke confirmed that she and Barnes were visiting the high school daily to support operations and students. However, she stated that she was legally unable to clarify any further information about Murphy and Czarniecki’s absence due to personnel privacy and “out of respect for them.”

Clarke went on to emphasize that “students are happy and supported.” She cited the high school’s events mentioned during the March 20 meeting as examples that students have not been impacted by this change, such as the recent spring sports tryouts, senior activities and the high school’s egg hunt for National Drug and Alcohol Fact Week.

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