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Frontier, 4 towns agree to work on budget

DEERFIELD — The four southern Franklin County towns and the Frontier Regional School Committee have agreed to work together to iron out differences over next school year’s budget.

The Frontier feeder towns — Deerfield, Conway, Whately and Sunderland — met jointly for three hours with the School Committee Thursday night to hash out the next year’s $9,545,088 proposed budget.

“I want to continue with the conversations,” said Frontier Regional School Principal Martha Barrett. “None of us like this process. The more we understand each other, the better.”

The cooperation is the first break in a growing contentious budget debate as the towns are limited to a 2.5 percent property tax increase and the School Committee is burdened with unfunded state mandates.

“I was told by several people that you can’t affect the school budget, that we’re powerless,” said Deerfield Selectman Elizabeth Clarke. “We have to get to the point where the perception of ‘you’re stuck’ is gone ... We’re all stuck. We have to at least try.”

The proposed school budget increased by $447,832, or 4.92 percent, from the current school year. The School Committee is asking the towns to pay 6.65 percent more than they did last year toward the total.

Time is running out, however, with the first annual town meeting on Friday in Sunderland. And the budget could still change once the towns know what they will receive in state aid.

The joint meeting was an effort by the towns and School Committee to discuss the budget. It will likely be one of several joint meetings in the future. The towns and school also plan to discuss the 1954 regional agreement, the budget, capital improvement process and K-6 or K-12 regionalization in the fall.

The selectboards hoped the School Committee would find some way to decrease the budget even slightly.

“If we had any give at all, we’d know it was an effort to try,” said Deerfield Selectman Mark Gilmore. “We now understand a lot of the things you’re confronted with.”

One idea by Gilmore was to have the towns level fund the budget and re-vote the budget at a special town meeting once state figures come in.

At the end of the meeting Thursday, there was no plan yet for the school committee to revisit the budget, Barrett said. But they would discuss what to do next on Monday.

Earlier last week, the Deerfield Board of Selectmen and Finance Committee and the Conway Finance Committee requested the School Committee pull back the overall budget increase from 4.92 percent to at least 3 percent.

But dropping the budget increase to 3 percent, the School Committee argued, would be the equivalent to laying off five teachers or eliminating sports.

The School Committee already laid off five teachers from the middle school last year.

Outgoing Superintendent Regina Nash, who was not present at the meeting, recently said the budget covers what is necessary to run a good educational program and includes costs for new state initiatives, such as Common Core standards, the new educator evaluator system and technology.

One of the biggest factors driving up the cost of the school budget is the out-of-district tuition for special education students, which the district is required to pay if it can’t educate the students in-house.

Out-of-district tuition for special education students for next year is $891,070, an increase of $154,901. This year the out-of-district costs seems to hit the budget hard because the cost is spread throughout the four elementary schools. In Grade 7, the costs come into one Frontier budget.

Barrett, who will replace Nash next year, explained that every student who is referred for special education is evaluated within the district.

Though the district prefers to educate students in the neighborhood schools, if it can’t it has no choice but to send the students out of district to a school that can educate them.

For a day special education facility, it costs the district between $30,000 and $40,000. For students requiring residential stay, it costs the district $300,000.

“We try very hard to keep the students in house, but sometimes it’s not possible,” Barrett said.

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

Related

Whately to discuss Frontier budget Tuesday

Monday, September 2, 2013

WHATELY — For a second time, the town budget-makers will discuss the Frontier Regional School budget and capital requests on Tuesday. The town’s Capital Planning Committee has already recommended that townspeople fund Whately’s share of the first year capital costs request, excluding a $30,000 pickup. But that was before Frontier Regional School District revised its 5-year capital plan in April. … 0

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