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Official calls for 9-town talk on schools

SHELBURNE — Fearing that the Mohawk Trail Regional School District may spend down all its stabilization funds in the next four years, Selectman Joseph Judd is considering a nine-town meeting, so that school and town officials can consider ways to either consolidate the district’s half-empty schools or to lease the extra space within school buildings for senior centers, libraries or other compatible uses.

Judd pointed out that Shelburne is facing a $71,000 assessment increase for schools this year. Judd said the state has been “holding harmless” Massachusetts school districts in which school enrollment has declined but fixed costs for education haven’t, by keeping aid for education at the same level as when there were more students.

But Judd said that, between the Mohawk Trail regional agreement and the district’s obligiations to the state, for funding school building expansions with state money in the 1990s, the towns “have no venue for possible dialog about closing a school.”

Judd said he would like to see the towns come together to discuss the problem.

“We need to get the towns together and at least brainstorm how to use the space in other ways. I’m not in favor of closing schools, but of using the available space,” said Selectman John Payne.

Payne also suggested bringing the issue to local legislators, to find out how much latitude is possible for using school building space in a way to reduce spending costs on education. For instance, he pointed to the use of space by the Mary Lyon Educational Foundation in the Buckland Shelburne Elementary School. With ample parking available, he suggested that excess space at the Mohawk Trail Regional School might be leased and re-used as small office space — similar to the incubator office spaces that are now rented out on the third floor of the McCusker’s Market building.

Mohawk school district talks of consolidating its four elementary school buildings, due to enrollment drops, ended in 2008. At the time, school officials said the district would be liable for closing school buildings that had been built or expanded with state school building funds in the 1990s. Also, the regional agreement among the towns requires a unanimous vote by all towns at annual town meeting, to approve a school closing. In 2006, the school district asked to change the regional agreement, by allowing the Mohawk School Committee to decide on a school closure. But this article was defeated by some member towns at the time.

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

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