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Towns rebel against Frontier capital plan funding request

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield.<br/>(Recorder file/Paul Franz)

    Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield.
    (Recorder file/Paul Franz)

  • Frontier Regional School in South Deerfield.<br/>(Recorder file/Paul Franz)

DEERFIELD – Two Frontier Regional School towns may not pay their full shares of $183,250 in capital projects sought for next year. And a third town may join ranks.

As a result, the likelihood that Frontier will be able to pay for planned building and maintenance improvements is slim.

Frontier’s largest contributors, Deerfield and Sunderland, have either proposed cut backs or demanded further explanation of the school’s request.

Two of the towns — Sunderland and Whately — are questioning whether the towns are even required to fund the capital requests.

“We need an answer from legal counsel whether the Board of Selectmen is obligated to put an article on the warrant,” said Sunderland Town Administrator Margaret Nartowicz.

Whately is also seeking legal advice.

The Frontier Regional School Committee has proposed two articles for the four towns to approve at the annual town meetings. One article would cover $183,250 in building improvements.

The second article would fund $119,000 in repairs to the outdoor tracks and tennis courts.

For the capital improvements, Conway’s share is $23,712, Deerfield’s share is $82,921, Sunderland’s is $48,213 and Whately’s is $28,404.

The individual town costs for the track and tennis courts breaks down to $15,398 for Conway, $53,848 for Deerfield, $31,309 for Sunderland and $18,445 for Whately.

This week, the Deerfield Capital Planning and Finance committees recommended the town only pay $14,000 of its $82,921 share of the capital costs for next year.

Deerfield’s contribution would only cover its portion of safety and security upgrades to the school, which were proposed in light of the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Specifically, Deerfield would pay for new classroom door locks and re-keying all outside doors.

“We simply don’t have the money,” said Town Administrator Bernie Kubiak. “We can’t pull money out of thin air. We have to run a town and the Frontier School Committee is unable to understand that their requests are excessive.”

The Sunderland Board of Selectmen, however, is on the fence.

“The Sunderland Board of Selectmen this week voted not to consider the Frontier capital plan unless the School Committee submitted justification indicating that projects address safety and security issues,” said Nartowicz.

If the School Committee explains how the proposals are required for life and safety issues, the board would consider the requests, said Nartowicz.

The Frontier School Committee lists seven safety and security projects for $67,500. The remaining $115,750 project costs relate to HVAC, electrical and equipment improvements.

The Whately Capital Planning Committee recommended to fund its share of the Frontier plan excluding the $30,000 pickup request. The Whately Finance Committee will make the final decision on Tuesday.

But since its two neighbors are not supporting the school requests, Town Administrator Lynn Sibley said “it doesn’t make sense for Whately to fund its share.”

“We’re trying to get a consensus among the towns,” Sibley said.

Conway Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke said the town will “go over (the capital plan) in more detail with the Finance Committee and figure out how we stand.”

The track and tennis court repairs would likely have to wait another year as well. Both Whately and Deerfield Capital Planning Committees have not recommended the project.

According to the 1954 regional school district agreement, the towns are required to pay for the general operating budget. But there is no mention whether the towns have to pay for a capital plan.

This is a new question for southern Franklin County towns. It is the first time in 15 years Frontier has submitted a capital plan since the school was rebuilt in 1997.

Frontier Business Manager Patricia Cavanaugh said the school department has made the requests this year because “now is the time to make repairs to maintain the building.”

The Frontier Regional School Committee could submit a citizen’s petition to get the request on the towns’ warrants, but the Sunderland deadline for petitions passed on March 15. Deerfield’s deadline was Friday. Whately’s is April 8.

If the towns do not fund the capital requests, Frontier wouldn’t be able to go forward with its proposed projects, Cavanaugh said.

The Frontier requests are on top of the individual towns’ own capital plans.

Deerfield has made reductions to other town department requests to come up with its total $165,000 capital plan budget. So far, it has eliminated requests for a police cruiser and pickup truck. But it has added $10,000 for required accessibility improvements at the Town Hall and $7,000 to cover the grant match for an elementary school generator. The plan includes the two safety improvements at Frontier.

Deerfield’s capital plan for last year amounted to $6,137,924 — $5.9 million of which was dedicated to the new Department of Public Works facility.

Sunderland is considering about $319,190 worth of capital projects for fiscal year 2014 with some of the projects funded through capital stabilization or community preservation fund money or grants. Last year, Sunderland paid $310,352 in capital projects townwide, which included North Main Street repairs and the Hadley Road culvert project.

For next year, Whately will pay for $106,683 in town capital projects, including a power stretcher for the ambulance, town hall design and engineering and accessibility improvements at the S. White Dickinson Library. Last year, it had $149,400 in capital projects.

The Frontier School Committee has already reduced the individual town assessments by $40,000 for the regular school budget after towns complained it was too costly. Frontier’s proposed budget for next year is $9,855,695.

For the school budget, Deerfield would pay $3,260,522. Conway would pay $1,061,388. Sunderland would provide $1,737,316 and Whately would give $925,545.

The school budget debate in Deerfield is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m.

The Deerfield Board of Selectmen believes it has had its final wake-up call as one town having to take on the biggest school costs every four years. When it is Deerfield’s turn, Selectman Mark Gilmore said it has to pay 50 percent of the budget increase.

Deerfield will organize a June meeting of the four towns’ finance committees, selectboards and the school committee to discuss enrollment, sustainability of the school, the distribution of costs and the school agreement.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

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