Conway wants Frontier to drop budget boost

Town seeking 2.5% overall increases

CONWAY — The town Finance Committee and Selectboard are requesting the local and regional school committees drop their budgets for next year to 2.5 percent overall increases.

“Everyone is dealing with little growth and Proposition 2½,” said Finance Chairman Jim Bosman. “Towns don’t have the revenue to meet a 4.97 percent increase from Frontier. We’d be looking for Frontier to bring that in line.”

The idea is to align the school budget increases with the same state Proposition 2½ tax cap limit that says towns can’t raise taxes by more than 2.5 percent.

To meet Conway’s demands, the Frontier Regional School Committee would have to cut its budget increases for Fiscal Year 2014 nearly in half. The town asks for the overall budget increase to drop no matter which Frontier feeder town pays the most.

The proposed budget for next year is $9,855,695. The budget increased $466,861, or 4.97 percent, from the current school year.

Frontier Regional School’s four feeder towns — Sunderland, Conway, Deerfield and Whately — would pay $6,984,771 for next school year under the current budget proposal. The total assessment is 6.65 percent more than the district paid this year.

Based on the five-year rolling enrollment, the school is asking Deerfield to pay $3,260,522. Conway to pay $1,061,388, Sunderland to pay $1,737,316 and Whately to pay $925,545.

The demand would not be so dramatic for the Conway Grammar School. The proposed elementary budget is $1,646,488 for next year. This amounts to a $44,263 or 2.76 budget increase from the current year.

The Finance Committee and the Selectboard will each craft letters to its town and school partners at Frontier. And the town will also ask for a joint meeting to look at Frontier’s regional agreement and declining enrollment. Deerfield and Sunderland also made similar requests.

The town’s dissent is expected. It faces the largest budget increase over the current year—16.3 percent. Deerfield is second with a 9.32 percent increase over the current year. Sunderland would pay 1.06 percent more. Whately, on the other hand, has a percentage decrease of 1 percent.

“Conway sends less sixth graders to Frontier. It’s not meeting Conway’s needs,” said Finance Committee member James Cabral.

Part of the problem, Conway believes is that the budget increases while student enrollment decreases. In 2008, there were 593 students enrolled at Frontier. Four years later in 2012, that dropped to 492.

“For the school budget to go up 5 percent is a huge chunk in the town budget. It already makes up 70 percent of the budget and is supporting the same infrastructure with less kids,” said Finance Committee member Andrea Llamas.

The Frontier School Committee has already made attempts to adjust its original proposed budget. To relieve some of the burden, the committee would take $40,000 from surplus to reduce individual town assessments.

Two out of the four towns would have to defeat the budget and send the school department back to the drawing boards.

Deerfield Town Administrator Bernie Kubiak said the town has enough money in the budget to cover Frontier’s operating budget. But he welcomes Conway’s demands.

“(The Frontier budget) is putting significant stress on our budget,” Kubiak said on Tuesday. “We can’t move forward with new things in the town if most of our new money is absorbed by a school with declining enrollment.”

Both Whately and Sunderland have approved and recommended the school operating budget as is.

Whether the two dissenting towns could be Conway and Deerfield, Kubiak said it is possible, but he doesn’t know if it is possible. Deerfield and Conway are the hardest hit with this year’s proposed budget.

Separate from the operating budget is the $133,250 in Frontier capital requests for next year.

The Conway Finance Committee did not make a recommendation yet on the Frontier capital request.

The committee will decide next week.

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

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