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Mohawk board restores French, Peer Leadership

BUCKLAND — Despite rising school costs for most member towns, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee voted Thursday night to add $80,000 to next year’s budget proposal for high school French and Peer Leadership classes.

Their deliberations came just before the vote to adopt an $18.2 million budget — and just after hearing more pleas from school families that were upset about the Mohawk program cuts.

The school board meeting again drew school families and students who have spoken out at three consecutive school board meetings to keep these two school courses. In February, a student-initiated petition was signed by 196 people.

Although Ashfield is facing the largest assement increase of all eight member towns, it was mostly Ashfield school parents who spoke Thursday.

Tamara Sloan, with children at Mohawk, Sanderson Academy and at the Heath Elementary School, said she was hearing concerns from parents about taking their children out of Mohawk schools.

“I know there are economic (issues.) I’m more worried about morale,” she said.

Given that French/Peer Leadership teacher Roxanne Trombly “has inspired such passion, it worries me that that is the person to go,” said Sloan.

“My own child is not inspired here,” she continued. “If you need to go to town and ask for more money, let’s do that.”

Trombly said she had started Mohawk’s Peer Leadership program with no money, and taught two classes the first year. The second year, there were three classes with waiting lists of other students, she said.

Trombly said she was asked last year to make the program available to all in-coming freshmen, and was given a $1,000 budget for the Peer Leadership program.

She said the Peer Leadership program brings volunteer speakers into the classroom, teaches students communication skills and requires two community service projects from each student.

Many of the Peer Leadership students go into the Mohawk elementary schools to work with children.

“Approximately 220 students have taken or are enrolled currently in the class. It is a class that focuses on students becoming the best version of themselves. We work on confidence, character and anti-bullying in our school and in the elementary schools of our district. We study simple things like the power of positivity, consideration and good manners. The students value this class because it makes a difference in their daily lives,” said Trombly.

Ashfield School Committee member Emily Robertson pointed out that the proposed budget may already require a Proposition 2½ tax levy limit override. Ashfield’s earlier assessment represented a $92,530 increase. She said the most Ashfield can raise within its levy limit is about $77,000.

“This is the first major increase towns have had over the last five years,” said Chairman Robert Aeschback of Plainfield. “I’ve heard from a number of selectmen who have told me, ‘You’re not going to get this budget passed.’ There’s more and more being asked of the teachers and the taxpayers. At town meetings, the departments are pitted against each other.”

Buckland board member Christopher Skelly suggested forming a “Mohawk Academic Association,” as a vehicle of fundraising and community support, similar to the school’s athletic and music associations.

Colrain board member Joseph Kurland proposed restoring the $80,000 cut for the French and leadership programs.

“If we approve this (smaller) budget tonight, we can’t go back and ask the towns for more,” he said. “If the town’s don’t like it, we can always go back and lower it.”

The board voted 8-2 to restore the funding; Aeschback and Robertson were the only school board members to vote against.

The addition raises Mohawk’s operating budget to $9,650,922.

Assessment changes

“We’re facing major budget issues in the next three to five years, and I’m getting very, very angry responses from selectmen and finance committee members,” said Aeschback. “I’m frustrated that some School Committee members don’t understand where we are financially.

If the budget is defeated at annual town meetings, the school committee has up to 45 days to resubmit another budget plan.

Here are the new assessments and the net increase from the current fiscal year budget:

■ Ashfield — $1,896,906, for a net increase of $107,881, or 6 percent.

■ Buckland — $1,822,014, a net increase of $50,931, or 2.88 percent.

■ Charlemont — $667,027, a net decrease of $35,055, or 5 percent.

■ Colrain — $1,668,883, a net increase of $75,537, or 4.74 percent.

■  Hawley — $138,833, a net increase of $16,483, or 13.5 percent.

■ Heath — $721,954, a net decrease of $16,652, or 2.25 percent

■ Plainfield — $595,152, an increase of $20,108, or 3.5 percent.

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