Selectmen Randy LaMattina and Scott Lambiase voted against the revision because of concerns over the requirement that dissolving the region be a unanimous one on the part of both towns.
“A lot of language has been cleaned up with regard to assessment and capital costs,” Town Administrator Frank Lynam said of the revision. “In 1992 when we regionalized, we were a 9-12 region and added the K-8.”
That agreement provided that either town could opt to withdraw from the region for kindergarten through eight-grade schools, Lynam noted.
“We’re basically being asked to OK an amended agreement that takes away Whitman’s ability to withdraw from the region without Hanson’s permission,” Selectmen Chairman Dr. Carl Kowalski said.
“And vice-versa. Yes,” Lynam said.
“Thanks for the vice-versa,” Kowalski said. “I don’t care whether or not Hanson gets permission from us.”
Selectmen Vice Chairman Dan Salvucci, who served on the regional agreement revision committee, said there is good reason for the provision.
“You’re regionalizing both towns, not just half … and the fact that if you wanted to de-regionalize, the cost would be unbelievable,” Salvucci said.
School Committee member Fred Small, attending the meeting for the budget discussion also said the language was written with flexibility to allow an additional town to join the region, should that ever be a consideration. That flexibility was a reason for South Shore Vo-Tech’s recent revision of its regional agreement, approved by Whitman voters at a special Town Meeting in December.
Kowalski said he shared some of LaMattina’s concerns.
Small said the DESE and the school district’s counsel had both approved the revised agreement and the School Committee unanimously voted for it.
“As Whitman is forecast to pick up more and more of that [per-pupil] swing as the Hanson population declines” it presented additional financial worry for LaMattina on behalf of Whitman.
Salvucci said LaMattina’s concerns were the reason he called for an additional discussion of the revision by the School Committee.
“If the population imbalance keeps going the way it’s going, you could see a time when 30 percent of the students in the school system are from Hanson and 70 percent of the students are from Whitman, and Whitman will have to pay 70 percent of the cost,” Kowalski said.
“But we’ll get 70 percent of the School Committee members,” Salvucci said. Small added that it would give Whitman control of the School Committee and its direction.
Hanson might seek an exit if the Whitman edge reached the 80-20 split, Small said.
“It’s not going to be any easy way to divorce the two towns,” Kowalski said.
Small said that was exactly the term used by the Mass. Association of Regional Schools’ consultants.
“That’s what happens — you get divorced,” Small said. “You both have to sign off on the divorce.”
Selectman Brian Bezanson said he does not foresee such a regional divorce occurring.
“I look at it this way — this is a partnership. If we become in a situation where it’s 70/30 or 80/20, we’re in control and we have a silent partner,” he said. “Why would we want to be paying 100 percent?”