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3 Mohawk district towns seek assessment cuts

BUCKLAND — A last-minute, 36 percent increase in state aid for busing for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District has prompted selectmen from three of the eight district towns to seek a share in the savings.

Buckland, Shelburne and Colrain boards have all sent letters asking that the now-excess busing money they budgeted to pay Mohawk be eliminated in light of the “windfall” from the state, and the issue will be discussed at the next Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee meeting on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m.

Mohawk’s transportation budget for the coming school year had been projected to cost $1.09 million, with a conservative $450,000 (41 percent) estimated to come from state Chapter 71 aid. But the state budget approved July 1 included an unprecedented 90 percent state reimbursement for regional school busing costs. For Mohawk, 90 percent would mean about $980,000 of its school bus costs would be covered by the state. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, Mohawk is geographically the largest school district in the state, covering 252 square miles, with four elementary schools and the high school-middle school.

In the early 1990s, the West County towns merged their separate elementary schools into a K-12 regional district with the high school, in hopes that the state would live up to its agreement to cover 100 percent of busing costs. But the percentage received has varied along with state revenues. Last year, Mohawk received between 63 adn 66 percent.

State Rep. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, said this year’s transportation reimbursement rate is the largest the state has had in four decades.

Buckland’s selectmen wrote: “... we expect this windfall will be returned to the district member towns either by reimbursement of the excess funds no longer needed by the district for transportation expenses or a lowering of the assessment to each member town.”

Colrain’s letter asks that any windfall resulting from regional school transportation reimbursement in excess of $450,000 be returned to member towns. Shelburne’s letter simply asks, “Will you be reducing the member towns assessments to reflect this greater than projected transportation reimbursement?”

School Committee Chairman Robert Aeschback has pointed out that the budget is drafted in February — several months before the state Legislature adopts its budget and sets transportation aid. He said the state sends Mohawk the first regional transportation payment in January, and then the final payment in June.

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

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