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Towns rejecting Frontier capital requests

Several Deerfield selectmen and Finance Committee members raised the question of the value of School Choice for the Frontier Regional School district Tuesday night at a joint budget meeting with the Deerfield Elementary School Committee.
(Recorder file/Paul Franz)

Several Deerfield selectmen and Finance Committee members raised the question of the value of School Choice for the Frontier Regional School district Tuesday night at a joint budget meeting with the Deerfield Elementary School Committee. (Recorder file/Paul Franz)

SUNDERLAND — Despite dropping some of its capital requests, the Frontier Regional School District is unlikely to see the full $133,250 from its four feeder towns wanted for facility improvements.

Two town selectboards — Deerfield and Sunderland — have rejected most of the requests so far. The only projects gaining any favor is the $67,500 in safety and security improvements.

It is the first time in 15 years the Frontier Regional School Committee has asked the school’s four feeder towns — Deerfield, Whately, Sunderland and Conway — to support capital projects over the next five years.

But from the start, the School Committee has received push back from the town selectboards and finance committees that say they cannot afford to pay for school projects on top of the proposed $9,855,695 operating budget.

Sunderland was the first town this week to officially close its purse to the school.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Monday to include the Frontier capital article as presented on the town meeting agenda. But it also voted to not recommend the full article. Instead, it voted to amend the request to recommend only its $17,759 share of the $67,500 building safety and security updates.

A day later, during four hours of budget talks, the Deerfield Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee decided they will only recommend to the townspeople $14,819 of its $60,295 share of Frontier capital improvements.

The town’s recommendation will only cover certain school security improvements — new classroom door locks, re-keying all exterior doors and electrical power service to the maintenance garage.

Deerfield’s share of new thumb-turn locks and card access keys is $14,028 of the total $31,000 project. To power the garage, Deerfield would pay $791 of the total $1,750 project.

The town would have enough money in its budget to cover the payments without having to approve a tax cap override, Town Administrator Bernie Kubiak said.

The Conway Finance Committee has not made a recommendation yet on the Frontier capital request.

The committee will decide next week. Whately will officially weigh in on Wednesday

The total proposed capital plan for next year is $133,250 — $67,500 of which covers safety and security improvements. Another $5,750 would support electrical power to the garage and a survey of the emergency generator connection and $60,000 would replace a maintenance pickup and a van used to transport students.

Originally, the school district requested $183,250, but later dropped the request for $50,000 in HVAC improvements in the hopes of getting Green Communities grant money. The School Committee also asked for $119,000 to pay for track and tennis court repairs separate from the five-year capital plan. The School Committee is now relying on future community preservation money for the recreation upgrades.

The town shares break down to $17,242 for Conway, $60,295 for Deerfield, $35,058 for Sunderland and $20,653 for Whately.

Deerfield and Sunderland are treating the Frontier capital plan separate from the operating budget.

While the towns are required to at least level-fund school operations, town lawyers advise that selectboards can pick and choose whether they want to recommend the capital projects to the townspeople.

“Nothing in (state general laws) says that the town must place Frontier’s two articles on the warrant,” stated Attorney Lisa Mead in an email to Deerfield’s Kubiak. “Since there is no contractual, statutory, or regulatory authority that directly addresses these issues, the town has no affirmative obligation to place the two proposed articles on the warrant.”

The Sunderland town attorney also indicated the same.

Mead also contacted the state Department of Revenue and found it agreed that there is no statutory or regulatory guidance regarding the Frontier capital plan.

As a result, how the operating budget and capital plan gets handled at town meeting is also different.

To pass a budget, three towns have to approve. If not, the school district has to present a second budget to the four towns at special town meetings. But in regard to the capital requests, if the school district can’t scrape up enough money for the projects at town meetings, it would have to return the money to the towns and hope for better results next year.

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

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