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Lenox School Committee Approves Budget, Sees Partial Return to In Person
By Joe Durwin, iBerkshires Correspondent
02:11AM / Wednesday, April 07, 2021
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The School Committee on Monday approved a $14 million budget for fiscal 2022.


LENOX, Mass. — Schoolchildren returned to Morris Elementary on Monday as the state ordered schools to begin full in-classroom learning this week. 
 
"We had a fantastic first day back to school," Principal Brenda Kelley said at Monday's School Committee meeting, thanking parents for their patience as the school returned to in-person learning following a three-week closure. Morris had been using remote and hybrid schedules since reopening last fall.
 
Resumption of classes at the middle and high school levels remain about three weeks away, due to an asbestos remediation issue, though interim Superintendent William Cameron said he definitely anticipates this will occur by the state deadline of April 28.
 
"We do expect to reopen the building to full time in person instruction the week of April 26," Cameron reported, and that by the deadline "we fully intend to be open for the middle school, and hopefully for the high school as well, for students and families who want their children to return to school."
 
The asbestos was discovered after a windstorm in late February knocked debris from the ceilings in classrooms, offices and part of the cafeteria — all in the oldest parts of the building. The particulates were determined to be vermiculite, a fire retardant assumed to contain asbestos because it was applied in the 1960s.
 
The superintendent said the district is working with parents to clarify which students will be in person and which will be continuing remotely. Students have the choice to remain remote through the end of the school year, though Cameron said there is no indication a remote option will be offered in Massachusetts schools in September.
 
The committee approved a revised budget proposal for the fiscal 2022, representing a compromise reduction of almost a quarter-million dollars from an earlier version brought forward in March.
 
The new total operating budget of $14,198,717 approved by the committee Monday brings the increase over this year's budget down to 3 percent, compared to an increase of more than 7 percent in the school department's earlier ask.
 
Assistant Superintendent of Business & Operations Melissa Falkowski said the reductions were arrived at by making cuts of 10 percent to supply line items (such as postage, equipment), a 50 percent reduction in textbook increase, reductions to new hire salaries and complete elimination of the field trip budget for the 2021-22 school year.
 
"I believe this budget will help maintain the quality of our schools, while maintaining the town's support for this and future budgets," said Committee member Molly Elliot, who had been a proponent of the reduction.
 
"I was not terribly optimistic that we could get to three, I was thinking maybe we could get to three and a half," said School Committee Chair Robert Vaughan, who congratulated Falkowski and Cameron on the task.
 
Following the committee's unanimous approval of the expenditures and receipts, Lenox residents will now be asked to appropriate a total of $10,938,717 in fund at town meeting for the FY22 school budget.
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