Ehrenworth presents proposed Athol Royalston school budget

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 03-09-2023 4:29 PM

ATHOL - As the Athol Royalston Regional School District finalizes its budget for the next fiscal year, several efforts are underway to improve the curriculum.

The proposed spending package is just over $31 million, and was presented by Superintendent Matt Ehrenworth at an All Boards meeting on March 8. That total includes nearly $5.8 million in local assessments, $23.3 million in state Chapter 70 funding, approximately $650,000 in other state aid and $1.2 million from other district revenues. Not included in the total is $818,000 in special education circuit breaker monies and an estimated $3.3 million in grants.

Previewing district priorities for the next fiscal year, Ehernworth said he wants to maintain the academic and social-emotional support programs.

“You’ll see in the budget that…we’ve already been focusing on shifting as many positions as possible off of our grant funding,” he said. “We’ve had our COVID grants – ESSER I, II, and III; next year will be the last use of ESSER III and it will be gone. So, we’ve been proactively trying to move positions off of ESSER funding into general fund funding.”

In FY22, 26 positions were paid for with ESSER and Social/Emotional Learning grant funds. In the current fiscal year, 21.5 positions were covered by those monies. Next fiscal year, ESSER III funds will be used to support only 11 positions in the district.

A priority for FY24 funding is improving the curriculum. Ehernworth said the district is planning on purchasing whatever material is identified as needed by an ongoing evaluation process. Other priorities include a review of the science curriculum, refining professional development and early college program implementation – including dual enrollment and Innovative Pathways programs to try to bring more college and career readiness for high school students. Ehrenworth and his team are also planning for work on the district’s physical plant.

“We absolutely have to fix the ceilings at the high school,” he said. “If that’s the last thing I do, I will make sure the ceilings at the high school stop falling down on kids. That’s a priority for me, personally.

“In addition, we actually just got responses to the RFP (Request For Proposals) that we put out for our full facilities assessment. I’m happy say to that we will speak to the Facilities Subcommittee first, but then we’ll bring that to the full committee. We had some really excellent proposals.”

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Ehrenworth said the goal is to have an entire facilities assessment done on the buildings, grounds, HVAC and other systems, and put together a long-term capital improvement plan for the district to be shared with the member communities.

The superintendent told the committee that Athol is just one of three communities in the commonwealth “with a booming, still increasing population growth.” That, he said, was based on a demographic study recently completed by Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School.

“I’m not anticipating that will slow down in the next few years,” Ehrenworth said. “So, we really need to prepare ourselves to have our schools equipped for the students who will be here.”

Ehrenworth said he hopes the facilities assessment, coupled with a demographic study to be undertaken by the district, will prepare it for a submission to the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

“My initial thoughts we might maybe expand the high school, which would also include renovating the track area,” he said.

The budget presented to the meeting by district Business Manager Leah Jack indicated an overall decrease in town assessments for FY24. Athol’s assessment will drop from just over $5.1 million for the current fiscal year to about $5 million next year; a decrease of 1.4 percent. Royalston’s assessment will actually increase by 0.9 percent, from $731,722 to 732,417; a total of $695. In addition, student enrollment is predicted to drop from 1,759 for the current year to 1,746 next year.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.

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