The School Committee’s Regional Agreement Amendment Committee took another step toward completing its work Monday, Feb. 25 as its members reviewed the assessment formula and voted to remove a section of the regional pact.
The committee voted unanimously to delete Section X, which outlined steps for withdrawing elementary grades pre-kindergarten through grade eight from the district as fiscally unworkable. Originally included as a “carrot” to gain passage of the regional agreement, members and Mass. Association of Regional Schools (MARS) consultants agreed.
The next committee meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, March 19 in the high school library with another to follow “if necessary” in April, according to School Committee Chairman Bob Hayes who also chairs the Regional Agreement Amendment Committee. After the committee approves final draft, it goes to the towns for approval at town meetings.
“The burden of that cost would probably never see that happen,” Hayes said. “The discussion has come up, but it’s been, ‘Let’s just do this, it’s easy.’ Nobody has ever spelled out what the initial cost would be. Some people actually thought that would be cost-saving.”
Changes requested by Department of Elementary and Secondary Education representative Chris Lynch to sections IV, V, and VI, pertaining to the budget process were also discussed. Lynch is the “person who must approve this before it goes to legal,” said consultant Malcolm Reid.
He said Lynch had a particular concern over present language that dissolves the district automatically if one town votes to leave.
“She believes that it shouldn’t happen automatically,” Reid said. “If one town votes to get out it should go through the regular withdrawal process that is spelled out earlier in your agreement.”
That would require another revision of the agreement being approved by both towns and ratified by the commissioner of education.
“Why do we have this language in here at all?” asked committee member James Egan of Hanson. “That was put in there sort of as a carrot because people weren’t confident that they wanted to stay in the region over the long haul. I think we’re beyond that at this point and don’t see why we need this language.”
“You have the curveball that this high school is owned by two towns, basically,” agreed member Fred Small of Whitman.
“You’re going to be back where you were with a high school and two K-8s, each with their own school committee, their own superintendent and share of central office area and everything else,” said MARS Assistant Executive Director Stephen Hemman.
He said division of assets and liabilities between two K-8 districts would be difficult at best, with millions of dollars in other post-employment benefits (OPEB) among the most expensive liabilities.
“Something like [withdrawal] should be difficult,” said committee member Christopher George of Whitman. “Difficult and costly.”
Reid, Steve Donovan and Hemman, also reviewed the funding formula for calculations of the foundation budget, minimum required local contribution, Chapter 70 aid, total district budget, net school spending and statutory assessment.
“There is a minimum required local contribution based on the property values and the town’s income of its residents,” Hemman said in the assessment PowerPoint presentation, aimed at setting the stage for discussion of the agreement’s budget sections. “They’re usually two years behind on that, but they calculate that based on [a town’s] wealth.”
Chapter 70 aid is based on the district foundation budget — not including transportation, debt and capital expense based on enrollment and number of economically disadvantaged students — minus the minimum required local contribution.
The minimum local contribution is increased incrementally each year by the Department of Revenue and DESE, according to Hemman.
Net school spending is based on the required local contribution plus Chapter 70 aid.
Statutory assessment formula starts with the foundation budget minus Chapter 70 aid, minimum local contribution and any other local funds.
“That amount, whatever it is, is then assessed to the member towns,” based on enrollment, Hemman said. “All this needs to be in the agreement so the towns know exactly what they’re going to be voting.”
Non-mandated busing language was unchanged due to its impact on bus service contracts.
Budgets would require passage at both town meetings by a simple majority. If a budget fails, the committee must issue a new budget, Hemman said. If that fails, a super town meeting is required.
“If that fails, you’re required to do it again,” he said. “If you don’t have a budget by Dec. 31, the Dept. of Education will set a budget for you and then it is also going to take fiscal control.”