Mohawk drops Rowe from cost-sharing plan

BUCKLAND — In less than a minute, the Mohawk Trail Regional School District Committee unanimously voted to end its 30-year-old cost-sharing agreement with Rowe at the end of June 2014.

This step follows earlier announcements this summer that Superintendent Michael Buoniconti and school business administrator Joanne Blier will not renew their employment contracts with Rowe after the current contracts expire next June.

The Hawlemont Regional School District, which is the third school district to share the costs of the superintendent’s office with Rowe and Mohawk, is expected to vote Tuesday on withdrawing from the three-district agreement and, like Mohawk, approve a new two-district cost-sharing agreement between Mohawk and Hawlemont.

This leaves the Rowe School District with 10 months to make arrangements to have superintendency services in place for when its current contracts expire.

Currently, Rowe has no school building — because of the fire that destroyed the 50-year-old school last August — and is now operating out of the Hawlemont Regional School building as a “school within a school,” leasing classroom space.

This spring, Rowe voted to build a new school using its insurance proceeds for a new $6 million building on the old school site. The goal has been to have the new school building open and operating by August 2014.

When asked if Mohawk’s latest vote was part of the district’s “divorce” from Rowe, Mohawk Chairman Robert Aeschback agreed that it was a type of divorce.

“By our three-district expense agreement, we are within our legal rights to give 10-months’ notice that we are terminating that,” he said.

He said that Buoniconti and Blier have made it clear they do not want to extend their contracts with Rowe, “and we cannot have two superintendents and two school business managers going through our files.”

Aeschback said the Rowe school board was invited to the meetings to participate in contract negotiations with the superintendent and school business administrator this spring and, “they have chosen not to do anything.”

Relations between Rowe town officials and Buoniconti cooled in 2011 after Buoniconti announced he was not renewing the contract of longtime Rowe School Principal Robert Clancy. Two new school committee members were elected to office that spring after the town had done a study to consider alternative options for sharing a superintendent with the Mohawk district.

At the time, the study group concluded that breaking its contract with the administrators would not be good for the town, but relations between the superintendent’s office and the current school committee have been strained over the past two years.

Rowe was among the original towns that composed the Mohawk Trail Regional School District, but its large tax revenue base — derived from the former Yankee Rowe Atomic nuclear power plant and the Bear Swamp hydroelectric facility — skewed the district’s financial demographics and made it ineligible for several grants and state funds. Mohawk asked Rowe to voluntarily leave the district so that Mohawk would be eligible for more state education money, based on the valuations of the remaining towns.

Eventually, Rowe left the district in return for a 10 percent tuition discount for enrolling its Grade 7 through 12 students at Mohawk.

Under the current three-district agreement, to share transportation and administrative costs, Rowe paid about 7 percent of all the shared administrative costs.

Rowe paid for its own school bus transportation, and did not qualify for any state reimbursement for “regional transportation” because it is not a regional school district.

When asked if ending the cost-sharing agreement with Rowe will affect the tuition discount Rowe gets, Aeschback said the two issues are separate. However, the Mohawk school board heard a presentation from an education consultant, Mark Abraham, that Rowe’s current tuition price is “subsidized” by Mohawk’s grant money.

“This is something we will discuss this year,” said Aeschback. “The existing agreement is 31 years old now. I don’t care what side you’re on, it needs to be reconsidered. I will always say that Rowe has always paid more than its share (for Mohawk), but we need to adjust the tuition minimally. That will be discussed this year.”

The Rowe School Committee is also meeting on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Rowe Town Hall.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at:
dbronc@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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