HUNTINGTON — The Gateway Regional School District presented the fiscal year 2025 budget at a public hearing on March 6. 

Superintendent Kristen Smidy said overall the budget of $17,971,760 reflects a 3.24% increase, which she added is a little lower than neighboring districts. The budget would require a 1.9% overall increase in assessments to the six member towns.

Smidy said reasons for the increase include a rise of 8% in staff health insurance costs through the Hampshire County Trust, as well as the end to ESSER funding — federal grants for coronavirus pandemic relief. She said the challenge is how to keep the costs down for the towns, but still maintain high quality educational programs.

Although the overall increase to local taxpayers is under 2%, each town’s assessments are based on the student census, and increases or decreases in the number of students attending Gateway from each town will affect how much the town is charged.

For example, the town of Middlefield, which represents a little more than 3% of the student population, had five more students move into town, for a total of 27, which will mean an increase to the town’s assessment of 18%.  Last year, the town’s assessment went down almost 13%.

“The peaks and valleys are difficult for the towns to navigate,” Smidy said, but added that there is good representation from the towns at School Committee meetings, so they are well informed in advance of changes such as in student population.

Smidy said the goal for this year is to maintain the status quo in the operating budget, and continue to seek grant opportunities and ways to keep building on district programs.

“We understand towns can’t kick in more than they have,” Smidy said, adding that since she started three years ago, it has felt to her like a partnership with the towns to support the school. “I’m appreciative of that,” she said.

One bright spot is that Nov. 1, 2023, represented the district’s final payment of $222,995 to the Massachusetts School Building Authority as a penalty for closing the elementary schools in Blandford and Russell, about 15 years ago.

When the Gateway district opted to consolidate its elementary classrooms in the Chester and Littleville buildings, the state agency that provides reimbursements for school construction projects required that the Gateway towns pay it back for assistance it had provided for renovations. For the past 14 years, the towns have been making annual payments of $85,100 to $327,655.

Smidy said Gateway may not be done paying for renovations, however. She said the high school will have to replace its roof in the near future. The district plans to apply for state funding for a portion of the estimated cost of $3 million in 2027, when the roof is 25 years old and becomes eligible. Gateway can’t apply for funds until then, she said.

“I’ve been talking to the towns about rolling that money saved from the payback into a capital account to save up for the roof,” Smidy said, adding that the state application process is competitive, and will depend on how many applicants there are, and the MSBA’s assessment of their need.

Smidy said she recently met for a long time with Middlefield Select Board member Curt Robie, the former Westfield State University facilities director, who is helping the district to look into other opportunities for the facility, such as the Green Schools program.

“He and I met for a long time. He went over a bunch of stuff with me — not my area of expertise,” Smidy said, adding that she has also met with other town representatives. “Everyone is pitching in to figure out the best way forward.”

Smidy said another bright spot is the district’s 2023 audit that just came back with no findings.

“Shout out to Steph Fisk and to our awesome business department,” she said, referring to Stephanie Fisk, assistant superintendent for finance and operations; Deborah Kuhn, district treasurer; and Scott Caron, accounts payable, for their “financing and working together … to make sure we move forward in a productive way.”

Another unknown with great potential for the district is the impact of the Barr Foundation, once Gateway has completed its work on the open-ended grant. Smidy said the grant is not part of the district budget. It funds trips and other activities to help Gateway staff improve the district’s operations.

“The funding that they give us is required to just be allocated for innovation,” Smidy said.

She said she spoke to the foundation’s education director on a recent site visit to another school, one of 24 site visits members of the Gateway community are taking to look at innovative programs in other areas of the country, which they may be able to adopt at Gateway.

Smidy said the director asked her what she was most worried about, and she responded about Barr’s commitment to being a long-term partner with Gateway.

Smidy said the director told her not to worry about that at all.

“She said, ‘We’ve just been so pleased with this partnership.’”

The School Committee was set to vote on the Gateway district budget at its meeting on March 13, and its passage is expected.  Following that vote, the information on assessments will go to each individual town to be included in the annual meeting warrants.

A copy of the 2025 budget, along with other resources, is available at www.grsd.org under the School Committee and Budget tabs.

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