HANOVER — Whether or not Hull joins the South Shore Regional School district with the eight member towns that already send students to the South Shore Regional Vocational Technical High School, the regional agreement may be revised anyway.
“I want everyone to feel comfortable, because nothing changes in this document unless every single town says yes — or doesn’t say no,” Superintendent-Director Dr. Thomas J. Hickey told School Committee members. “This is just the beginning of the marathon for conversation.”
The district now includes Abington, Cohasset, Hanover, Hanson, Norwell, Rockland, Scituate and Whitman. The agreement was last updated with one sentence regarding self-funded programs in 1984 after Whitman and Hanson joined the region in 1982.
The South Shore Regional School Committee met to discuss the issue following a subcommittee meeting on the expansion into Hull on Wednesday, Jan. 18.
“I think what started as a conversation about Hull possibly coming in, and amending the agreement [for that], after looking at it with due diligence we found some other areas to review,” Hickey said after the meeting. “Those are, in my mind, of equal importance as talking about Hull.”
The earliest the addition of Hull could take place would be by July 2018 for students to be admitted for the start of the 2018-19 school year, following a vote by the School Committee and at town meetings of all eight-member communities. The issue would be discussed with selectmen, finance committees and residents before going to town meetings. The commissioner of education then gets the final decision.
“There’s a fast way and a — more likely — slower way to do it,” Hickey said, as the fiscal 2018 budget is the priority. “There is no rush.”
Hull also has a planning subcommittee reviewing the numbers as it works on the question of whether that town joins the South Shore Tech region.
“We’re at the very beginning of the process,” Hickey said. “We’ll work on a figure to get the conversation started and see where it goes from there.”
Hickey also reviewed a proposed revision of the regional agreement proposed by MARS Consulting — former school superintendents and members of the Mass. Association of Regional Schools. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) offers feedback through its legal advice.
Some passages, specific to the process through which Whitman and Hanson joined, or concerning pre-Education Reform Act practices, would be stricken as no longer needed. Other sections would be translated into clearer language, update Massachusetts General Law citations or change required votes regarding financial decisions and withdraw from the region would be changed from unanimous votes to two-thirds. Most proposed deletions involved obsolete language. Financial responsibilities involved in any town’s decision to withdraw would are also covered.
“There are two parallel tracks,” Hickey said. “We are definitely talking about Hull, we are talking about the terms under which this could work, but beyond Hull, there’s also ideas to make changes in this agreement that are good for the district.”
Should both the amendments and Hull’s admission come up for a vote the eight member towns of SSVT would vote on both issues. How the two issues would come before town meetings is still to be determined. They could be a single warrant article or divided into two.
Hull would not vote on amendments to the agreement, but to the terms the committee approves for entering the district.
“Nothing moves unless this committee votes to move forward and amend the agreement,” Hickey said. “This is Step One.”
Rockland School Committee member Robert L. Mahoney wondered if this were not also a good time to open the possibility of joining the district to other communities for the 2019-20 time frame.
“No other communities have approached us like Hull,” Hickey said. “We’re pleased that Hull reached out to us. … My personal opinion is that you are right, but we cannot propose a ‘zipper clause,’ to insert future communities.”
He said that, if the committee wanted to begin a conversation outreach, that could be pursued in the near future.
“We are filling our seats, but we recognize we are the only vocational school district anywhere close to here that has multiple communities close to us that are not aligned with a regional vocational school,” he added.
Whitman representative Dan Salvucci said space was a factor limiting that kind of expansion unless the student quota per town is re-allocated.
“We don’t have the space,” he said.
“We have room for Hull,” said Committee Chairman Robert L. Molla Jr., noting that Hull already sends students to South Shore Tech on a non-resident tuition basis.
Mahoney argued that high schools in the eight member towns were also offering technology programs that reduce the number of students that attend South Shore Tech and “cutting into the Chapter 74 money” received.
“It’s where the parents want to send their children,” Salvucci countered. “I’m very strong on that.”
Where Hull’s buy-in to the district is concerned, Hickey advocated that the School Committee calculate the value of the facility as well as its programs, such as the building, the land and capital the district has in the building as well as Hull’s enrollment and transportation costs.
“There is no statute that governs this,” Hickey said. “An agreed-upon cost, similar to Whitman and Hanson, could be phased in over time.”
The question remains how to do that without “giving away the farm,” as Molla put it.
“You have to make it practical for them to come into the region [compared to paying out-of-district tuition],” Salvucci said.