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What do Deerfield private schools pay the town?

As budgets get tighter, some question the size of contributions from the town’s resident private schools

DEERFIELD — The $14,159,281 town budget adopted for next year was hard to swallow for many town residents.

Police and highway budgets were bare bones and level funded for the most part. Education costs reflected few initiatives. And taxes were set to increase.

At town meeting this past week, some frustrated South Deerfield residents began to demand more from their wealthier neighbors in Old Deerfield, asking the tax-exempt private schools to pay more.

The recent purchase of 2.2 acres in Deerfield for $1.5 million by Deerfield Academy, which would take the land off the tax rolls, irked residents even more as they barely escaped a Proposition 21/ 2 tax cap override.

Yet, while Deerfield Academy, Bement School and Eaglebrook School don’t have to pay taxes on many of their properties used for education, the schools don’t escape all taxes. The schools also donate money, expertise and labor for town projects.

According to state law, the private schools are not obligated to contribute to the town in taxes or gifts.

Deerfield Academy owns a total value of $120,195,690 worth of tax-exempt properties.

The approximate tax bill if the school paid the current tax rate would have been $1,647,857.

Bement School owns $11,203,700 worth of tax-exempt properties.

If the school paid taxes on these properties, the town would have received $153,602 this year from Bement.

The assessed value for tax-exempt properties owned by Eaglebrook School amounts to $35,381,130. If the school was paying taxes, the town would receive $485,075 this year from Eaglebrook.

Included in these properties are faculty houses owned by the three schools.

The faculty houses are not taxed as long as they are part of the main campus and contribute to educational purposes.

At Deerfield, faculty living in the tax-exempt homes regularly host students, colleagues and trustees at their homes. Their contract specifies that the homes have to be available for meetings and other educational uses, Communications Director David Thiel said.

One of the common complaints from townspeople is that the children of faculty living in tax-exempt homes attend Deerfield public schools for free.

Frontier Regional School Superintendent Martha Barrett said these students are entitled to a public school education.

Of the 620 Deerfield faculty members, 500 live in the surrounding towns, paying taxes and 120 live on campus.

“That’s a significant employment impact,” Thiel said.

Bement has 23 faculty and staff that live in Deerfield, 11 of which live in the Bement homes.

Not all the properties the private schools own are tax exempt.

Deerfield Academy owns 10 taxable properties valued at $357,600. The properties are taxed $4,902 for this year.

Bement School owns one taxed property on Greenfield Road valued at $56,100.

Based on this year’s $13.71 tax rate, the school paid $769 in taxes on that property.

Bement’s Business Manager Kenneth Cuddeback, who also serves as Deerfield School Committee Chairman, noted how the school pays the water and fire services tax. It also pays $2,000 a year in permit fees to the town’s Building Department.

“We do everything we can with our limited resources to provide to the town,” Cuddeback said.

Eaglebrook School owns $428,978 worth of taxable property for which it paid $5,881 in taxes.

Eaglebrook representatives did not return calls for comment.

Unlike many private schools, the Deerfield independent schools provide monetary gifts to the town along with in-kind donations, voluntary work and expertise for several town projects.

This year, Deerfield Academy donated $91,750. Eaglebrook School donated $26,000. Bement donated $3,000.

From Fiscal Years 2011 to 2014, Deerfield Academy’s contribution has risen 26.6 percent.

From 2008, it has jumped 58.2 percent. The figures were not available for the other schools.

“The academy is a member of the community,” said its Chief Financial Officer Keith Finan. “We want to be a participating member of the community. We do a lot of things that help the community that isn’t in the cash form.”

In addition to the annual $3,000 gift, Bement School donates $2,000 to the Old Deerfield Fire District.

Deerfield Academy also gives Deerfield residents a reduced tuition. There are 15 Deerfield residents who attend Deerfield Academy. These students receive a reduced tuition of $18,600 — half the normal day student tuition. Deerfield’s reduced tuition rates for town residents is unique among New England preparatory schools, Communications Director David Thiel said. The students are also still eligible for financial aid.

Over the years, Deerfield Academy has donated its labor and expertise to the public schools and the town.

“I understand the frustration,” Barrett said. “But people tend to forget that (the projects) are huge. There is no way that the public school could afford to do the projects.”

The academy provides the work free of charge. It does not have hourly rates and does not know what the value of the projects are, Thiel said.

“We don’t have figures on how much time and money is dedicated to these,” Thiel said.

Deerfield Academy has rebuilt the five town ball fields, including the fields at Sugarloaf, Herlihy Park, behind the town hall and the Frontier Regional School field. The school has one of the best groundskeepers in New England who offers his expert advice to the town, Finan said.

Deerfield Academy also helped design the future softball field at the Sunderland Elementary School this year. It also donated fertilizer and field work for Herlihy Park.

Deerfield Academy also requires its students to do several community service projects.

This year, the academy rebuilt the drainage system at the town jail and the lockers at the Deerfield Police Department. Some of Deerfield’s information technology experts also helped install a new computer system at the police station to enable officers to communicate with Shelburne Control.

“We have the expertise. We’re more than happy to share with the community to accomplish these things,” Finan said.

Bement School also contributes to the Deerfield Fire District’s annual Halloween party. It holds its events open to the public and allows the Pioneer Valley Sympathy to use its facilities.

“There are any set of projects going on where DA staff, students and resources are going to the community,” Thiel said. “Assistance and engagement with our local community has been a constant.”

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 on Twitter follow: @RecorderKatMcK

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