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Northfield Prop. 2½ override vote scheduled

NORTHFIELD — Voters will decide the coming year’s school budget at a July 8 Proposition 21/ 2 override vote.

The annual town meeting approved Northfield’s Pioneer Valley Regional School District assessment of $3.87 million, though the approval was contingent on an override vote.

Polls will be open from noon to 8 p.m. in Town Hall. With the vote set for the Tuesday after Fourth of July weekend, Selectboard member Tracy Rogers stressed the importance of making absentee ballots available to residents who may be on vacation during the election.

If the override fails, the town’s assessment would be $3.72 million, which is still $126,045 more than the Finance Committee and Selectboard had recommended to town meeting.

Superintendent Dayle Doiron said she’s not sure whether Northfield will have an approved assessment if the override fails, because of the way town meeting articles were structured.

The Selectboard, however, was confident at its Tuesday meeting that its recommended assessment would be considered approved if the override fails. The override article was structured to apply to any money above what was recommended by the Selectboard and Finance Committee.

If the board is correct, the new assessment would be based on the $2.45 million assessment approved by Bernardston. It takes three of the district’s four towns to approve a total school budget, with each town assessed by a percentage determined by the state. When the full requested budget isn’t approved, each town’s assessment is adjusted based on the new budget.

The new district budget, including assessments, state aid and other revenue, would be $749,657 less than the requested $14.13 million.

Superintendent Dayle Doiron said the proposed budget covered “essential services” only, and that staffing cuts would be imminent if the budget was reduced. Doiron and the School Committee had already shaved $225,000 from the first draft budget before going to town meetings. The savings are due to three teachers who are leaving and did not need to be replaced due to lower enrollment.

The exact amount of staffing cuts needed will not be known until the district knows just how much state aid it will receive. The state Senate has proposed an increase to transportation reimbursements for regional schools.

Though state law says Massachusetts must reimburse regional schools 100 percent of their transportation costs, the figure is usually much lower, often around 60 percent. However, the Senate budget calls for the state to pay 90 percent of transportation costs next year.

The district expected to receive about 53 percent, or $418,142 reimbursement for the $793,260 budgeted for transportation. It could increase by $338,816 if the Senate’s proposal holds, making up about half money lost from the lowered assessments.

Increased state aid would be welcome news to taxpayers, who have had to pay the brunt of the budget increases for years as costs rose far faster than state aid. This year, the district proposed a 3.9 percent increase to the budget, which worked out to an average 10.97 percent increase to town assessments.

The rising costs and the state’s failure to increase aid were the subject of much discussion in member towns, and Warwick proposed a lower assessment to its voters, who decided to fund the full amount.

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

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