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Mohawk looks at changing Rowe tuition

BUCKLAND — The Mohawk Trail Regional School Committee wants to change the 32-year regional agreement that determines Rowe’s discounted high school student tuition — and the school board chairman hopes to have an annual town meeting warrant article to that effect for member towns to consider this spring.

School Committee Chairman Robert Aeschback says he will ask the Rowe School Committee to join in talks about changing Rowe’s per-student fee “to something between what we charge now and what Mark Abrahams suggested.”

Abrahams, the financial consultant hired last year by Mohawk, says Rowe’s tuition would be at least $15,500 per student if the district were using current cost-assessment methods established by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Instead, he says, state aid intended for Mohawk member towns has artificially lowered the per-pupil cost calculation.

For this school year, Rowe is to pay $10,738 per student, or $289,926 for all 27 students now at Mohawk. This includes a roughly 10 percent discount offered to Rowe in the 1980s for voluntarily withdrawing from the district as a member town. The reason Mohawk had asked Rowe to leave was so that Mohawk could qualify for more state aid. At the time, high property values for the Yankee Rowe nuclear plant and the Bear Swamp hydroelectric facility — both in Rowe — made the regional district appear to be far more wealthy than it really was.

According to Abraham’s report, Rowe is getting more than a 10 percent discount, because Chapter 70 (state aid for education) and Chapter 71 (regional transportation) for the other member towns is deducted from the total school operating budget before the per-pupil cost is even calculated.

Instead of different state aid sums going directly to each member town, the money is sent directly to the Mohawk district. Rowe — because it’s not a member town — directly gets its own aid for education from the state.

According to Aeschback, some town officials have been asking whether their town’s state aid is essentially subsidizing Rowe.

The tuition that Rowe pays to Mohawk for its high school students has been one of several thorny issues to spring up between Rowe and Mohawk School Committee members over the past few years. In 2010, after School Business Administrator Joanne Blier learned that Rowe was not eligible to share Mohawk’s regional high school transportation aid, former Rowe School Committee Chairman Bill Loomis challenged the resulting increase. Loomis said the original regional agreement says that Mohawk is responsible for Rowe’s bus transportation.

According to Loomis, Rowe’s cost-sharing assessment has risen at least 8 percent each year. This year’s $289,926 assessment represents a 10 percent increase over last year’s high school costs, of $262,234.

Loomis says Rowe has provided at least $750,000 in donations to Mohawk since leaving the district and currently donates more than $50,000 each year to pay for a late bus, to accommodate after-school activities and the middle school’s Spanish language program.

Aeschback said the revision “will take into consideration all that Rowe has done for Mohawk.”

“I, and the School Committee, has always felt that Rowe is willing to pay its fair share,” he added.

Earlier this year, current Rowe Chairwoman Lisa Miller said she hoped Mohawk would postpone discussions this school year about the tuition because School Committee members are working on getting the new elementary school built and operating by August 2014. The old school burned down last August, and the Rowe School is temporarily housed in the Hawlemont Regional School building.

Also, the Rowe School Committee is studying its options for a new superintendent structure, now that both Mohawk/Rowe Superintendent Michael Buoniconti and Blier have given notice that they will not renew their employment contracts with Rowe after their current contracts expire in June 2014.

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

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