HANSON — At this time, de-regionalization — either fully or partially — is not advisable, according to members of the Hanson
De-Regionalization Feasibility Study Committee member Kim McCoy reported to the Select Board on Tuesday, Aug. 9.
“The educational and financial impacts are too great to recommend de-regionalization at this time,” she said. “Hanson wanted to explore de-regionalization in response to the changes in the W-H regional agreement and the statutory method that’s used to calculate the budgetary contributions. While the committee does feel that de-regionalization isn’t advisable, what else does Hanson have? What are our other options?”
Select Board members agreed, but have suggested the committee stay in place to examine ways the town could affect the direction of the WHRSD in the future to “affect some positive change” for the future.
The possible renegotiation of the regional agreement — which Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett noted was already voted renegotiation of the regional agreement as an avenue the town will pursue — leaving W-H to join another district, how school committee memberships are assigned or trying to start a dialog with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) on how calculations for budget formulas are impacting small towns like Hanson.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said that while no stone had been left unturned before, maybe joining with other similar towns to approach DESE again might be an idea worth pursuing. She also suggested the de-regionalization committee could be repurposed to work on different aspects of how the regional agreement can address Hanson’s concerns.
“It could change DESE’s thinking,” Select Board member Jim Hickey said.
“We are not the only one impacted by this,” McCoy agreed.
McCoy of 71 Cushman St., and the other members — Christopher Ernest, Catherine Coakley and Wendy Linn — worked with Hickey to determine the educational effects, financial impacts, legal considerations of separation and what other considerations exist surrounding separation from the district.
“I think it was worse than we all thought,” Select Board member Jim Hickey said.
“I didn’t come with my mind set when I started,” McCoy said. “But, after seeing the numbers, it’s pretty clear … the direction that we had to choose.”
Consultant firm TMS of Auburn, which produced a 180-page report on de-regionalization, which will be made available online. The firm outlined three choices — full separation, partial separation or maintain the status quo.
A full withdrawal, entailing individual school districts with their own superintendent, school committee and staffing would bring the most autonomy for each town, but would also cost the most — an estimated $24,936,000 per year in addition to the need for a new Hanson high school at about $72 million, McCoy said.
A partial separation of kindergarten through grade eight would cost an estimated $25,970,000, to fund a separate administration and staff governed by a separate school committee as well as the regional grade nine to 12 school committee. A second version of partial separation would cost about $23 million per year.
Hanson’s portion of the W-H fiscal 2023 budget is $13,373,000.
Additional state funding, including but not limited to, Chapter 71 regional transportation funds and will affect curriculum, particularly special education.
“This was not an easy thing to do,” said Hickey about the work of the committee, whose members were chosen by FitzGerald-Kemmett and former board member Wes Blauss. “We only had to do it a couple of times, but for me, working with these people … I felt like I was working with some of the most intelligent people that we have in Hanson.”
Hickey noted that he had requested that he have no input on the formation of the committee.
“When we had our meetings … I would just listen to these people for the most part, because it wouldn’t really be anything else that I could add that they hadn’t already said,” he reported to the Select Board.
“We were blown away by the quality of people that applied,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said of the committee.
McCoy noted that, while not perfect, TMS’ report “did the best they could with what they had.”
“I don’t think the committee’s work is though,” Select Board member Joe Weeks said, noting the quality of life in town is an important issue to keep sight of. “I’d like to see what you think the next steps are.”