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Nick Bernier, EPS’s director of business services, presents the FY25 school budget during the March 26 Easthampton School Committee meeting.
Photo credit: Easthampton Media

EASTHAMPTON — During its regular meeting on March 26, the Easthampton School Committee approved a level service budget for Easthampton Public Schools in fiscal year 2025, which means no staff cuts will occur.

The EPS budget for FY25, which totals around $20.6 million, was approved with one abstention by the committee and represents a $1.8 million, or 9.78% increase from the district’s current budget.

“What we’re presenting you tonight is a level service budget with no cuts,” said interim Superintendent Maureen Binienda. “I just want to say how fortunate we are to be presenting that.”

According to Nick Bernier, the district’s director of business services, the 9.78% increase is a result of increases to out-of-district tuition, electricity, vocational tuition, specialized transportation, professional development, software, substitute teachers and the movement of grant-funded positions to the general fund.

Bernier also touched on the expiring coronavirus pandemic-relief funding, also known as ESSER III funding, as a “huge factor” with the increase in the budget. He told the committee that the funding Easthampton received is expected to be expended by June 30.

“Those funds were vital, crucial; the three rounds of them that we got; to help districts get through the darkest days of the pandemic,” Bernier said. “But now that the funds are drying up, it doesn’t mean that the needs are going with it. Districts find themselves in a tough position here where they’ve been relying on this funding for the better part of four years, and then all of a sudden, it’s going to be gone.”

During his presentation, Bernier acknowledged that the budget the committee eventually approved is a “needs-based budget” that represents a long path to recovery because of the coronavirus pandemic, even as enrollment is decreasing in the district.

He noted how the district’s high needs percentage has gone up 9% since the onset of COVID-19.

“Bottom line is, the enrollment is down, but the needs are still growing, which is why we’re presenting a level services budget tonight,” Bernier said.

Many School Committee members during the meeting commended Bernier for his work on the budget these past several months.

“Our goal was we don’t want to lose people because as some parents even stated, you know it’s like dominoes and when one group suffers, it affects the entire community,” said School Committee member Eric Guyette, who served on the finance subcommittee. “Thank you for all of you who are waiting outside for this meeting and for coming into this meeting and your support and then thanks to Nick for trying as hard as you can to make this a stomachable budget.”

Many residents shared their thoughts about the current budget during the meeting. Some were appreciative of the level services budget while others noted the social and emotional toll COVID-19 has had on students.

“I am so grateful that we have a level service budget to present tonight, and I deeply support that as well as I know that the School Committee and the union want to see a fair contract,” said Margaret Betts, who has been a part of the EPS district for 17 years. “I feel very respected right now in my profession and in the work that I’m doing, and I just want to thank the School Committee for trying to find a way in the midst of this.”

Maegan Davis, a parent of two children in EPS, noted how students coming into school carry a lot more emotional needs than prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and those needs must be met.

“I’m just here to be part of that parent body of Easthampton saying to you, the School Committee, that you have the parents of this town’s backing to ask for what our schools need,” Davis said. “We need more than a level service budget, but we certainly need no less than a level service budget.”

The passed budget will now be sent to Mayor Nicole LaChapelle’s office as well as the City Council for final approval by the city.

dhackett@thereminder.com | + posts