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Pioneer towns see prospect of 10% hikes

Pioneer Valley Regional School member towns could face a 10 percent increase in assessments if a proposed level services budget of $14.4 million is passed. Town officials say they can't afford such a hike.
(Recorder file/Paul Franz)

Pioneer Valley Regional School member towns could face a 10 percent increase in assessments if a proposed level services budget of $14.4 million is passed. Town officials say they can't afford such a hike. (Recorder file/Paul Franz)

NORTHFIELD — As school costs continue to rise, state aid remains nearly stagnant, and the towns of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District are feeling the crunch.

The School Committee has proposed a level services budget of $14.4 million for next year, up $688,057, or 5.03 percent, from the current year’s budget of $13.7 million.

Town officials fear that, unless outside revenue increases significantly, the proposed budget could translate to a 10 percent increase in the shares paid by Bernardston, Leyden, Northfield and Warwick.

Leyden Selectman Jeffrey Neipp said the town could afford an increase of up to 3 percent. Officials of the other three towns said they could support a 2.5 percent increase.

Each town’s share of the budget is determined by a formula set by the state, based largely on the number of students each town sends to district schools.

Town officials and committee members agreed that the state isn’t living up to its end of the bargain.

State Chapter 70 aid to the district is expected at $4.03 million, up only $20,050, or 0.49 percent, from last year, though the state budget has yet to be finalized. Statewide, Chapter 70 increases amount to $25 per student, according to the state Department of Education.

“What the hell is $25 per student?” asked Bernardston Selectman Robert Raymond. “There should be much more money coming from the state if they value education.”

Figures for other revenues, including School Choice, out-of-state tuition, grants, and a state-funded partial transportation reimbursement, are not yet available.

Empty promises

Town officials and School Committee members also took issue with the state’s failure to reimburse regional schools fully for busing.

According to Massachusetts general law, Chapter 71, section 16C, regional school districts must provide transportation for students in kindergarten through Grade 12 living 1.5 miles or farther from school, “and the Commonwealth shall reimburse such district to the full extent of the amounts expended for such transportation ...”

However, the state has failed to fully compensate regional transportation costs in recent memory. Last year, the district was reimbursed $384,399 — 59 percent of the $644,976 spent on transportation. Though the reimbursement increased each year since 2012, so has the cost of transportation.

Transportation costs are expected to increase by $148,284, or 29 percent. Though the reimbursement figures have yet to be released, the governor’s budget recommendations call for transportation reimbursement to be level funded, meaning the entire increase in costs would fall to the district’s towns.

Going forward

Officials from all four towns agree that there’s no way their tax base can support a 10 percent increase.

Pioneer Superintendent Dayle Doiron said staffing cuts would be unavoidable if any cuts are made to the proposed budget.

Budget cuts are likely, though the amount will not be known until revenue projections are released, and a new budget proposal is formulated.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279.

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