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School Committee endorses budget, superintendent

School Committee member George LeBlanc officially endorses newly appointed Superintendent Dr. John Barry by signing his three-year contract at the School Committee meeting last week. Reminder Publications photo by Katelyn Gendron
By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

SOUTHWICK The next fiscal year will provide significant changes for the Southwick-Tolland Regional School District (STRSD) both administratively and financially.

Last week, the School Committee officially endorsed Dr. John Barry's contract as the next Superintendent of Southwick-Tolland Regional School District by a vote of 5 to 1. The committee also voted unanimously to send their $19 million fiscal year 2009 (FY09) budget to the Board of Selectmen (BOS).

Barry, who is currently the superintendent of North Berkshire School Union in North Adams, will be officially handed the reigns on July 1, upon Thomas Witham's retirement. Barry has signed a three-year contract.

Charles Condron, secretary of the School Committee, said he was unwilling to vote in favor of Barry's contract but was completely in favor of Barry's appointment as the new superintendent.

"I wanted to negotiate a little harder on salary," he explained, adding that a tough stance on contract negotiations is a district-wide practice. "Otherwise I'm very impressed with the man . when he interviewed he did extensive research and was very familiar with the district. He was extremely well prepared."

While at the School Committee meeting, Barry told Reminder Publications that he believed his transition was moving along well, adding that he has spent significant time with Witham learning the details of the district's operations.

Barry noted that he is still learning the ins and outs of the district's budget process, however.

The FY09 budget request is a 5.65 percent increase over fiscal year 2008 (FY08). The first of four budget requests included a 7.3 percent increase over FY08; however, the subsequent cuts allowed for only a 5.65 percent increase.

Such increases in the budget include employee contracts, benefits and health insurance, two new positions, tuition, energy consumption, contract services, general supplies and textbooks at a cost of $1,018,455.

A new addition to the FY09 class schedule will be the implementation of full-day kindergarten at Woodland Elementary School as opposed to the current half-day schedule. Paul Petit, assistant superintendent of STRSD, explained that this new program will be at no cost to the School Department.

He said that the Southwick and Granville BOS have agreed to allocate the district a one-time appropriation of $150,000 to start the full-day kindergarten for 110 students.

"The biggest challenge [in creating the FY09 budget] was trying to find funding for full-day kindergarten," Petit said. "To their credits, despite how tight their [town] budgets are [the BOS] found a way to support the means and make it happen."

Petit explained that Fiscal Year 2010's full-day kindergarten costs will be offset by additional Chapter 70 money for the then full-time students.

He added that the classroom space at Woodland Elementary School will be freed up upon this year's seven-classroom fourth grade move to Powder Mill Elementary School. The incoming fourth grade class requires only six classrooms.

New positions proposed in the budget include a fulltime district-wide English language learning teacher and an increase to the district-wide school psychologist position from 0.6 to 0.8.

"We tried to stay within reason," School Committee Chair James Vincent, said, adding that this year's budget process went "smoothly."

He said his goal since becoming a School Committee member five years ago was to implement full-day kindergarten. "Those [students] going to full day [kindergarten] will come out ahead," Vincent added.