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School funding formula poses uncertainty in Leverett

LEVERETT — New emergency equipment, resolutions about drone aircraft and gas pipelines and a possible change to the way member towns pay to send students to the Amherst Pelham Regional School District will be on the table at Leverett’s annual town meeting Saturday.

Also on the agenda is approval of the town’s $5,576,739 operating budget, which represents a 2.3 percent increase over the current year. If approved as it stands, it would spend $3,864,593 on education, including the elementary schools, $287,720 for general government, $333,530 for public safety, and $475,079 for public works.

The session runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Leverett Elementary School.

Officials say the question over school funding has created uncertainty around the proposed town budget. Leverett’s portion of the regional school budget it shares with Amherst, Pelham and Shutesbury could be affected by action the Shutesbury Town Meeting takes the same day.

Shutesbury is considering calculating its portion of the $29,618,478 budget that funds the regional middle school and high school in Amherst differently. If it does, Shutesbury would save money but the other towns would pay more than they have already budgeted. Leverett Town Administrator Marjorie McGinnis said the meeting will wait until the afternoon to consider its budget to see what Shutesbury does.

For the past 10 years, towns in the regional district have tallied up their school budget obligation based on a five-year rolling average in which each town is charged the same per pupil. If any member town rejects the method, a default “statutory” formula based on income and property values kicks in, and other towns must follow suit.

If Shutesbury adopts the statutory formula, McGinnis said, Leverett’s share of the regional school budget is expected to increase as much as $140,000 over the $1,440,000 it anticipated. In that case, she said, she would expect Leverett and the other three towns to send the regional school budget back to the drawing board because absorbing such an increase would be difficult.

Drones, pipeline

Two petition-based resolutions will also be up for consideration:

∎ One seeks to restrict the use of drone aircraft in town and would ask U.S. Rep. James McGovern and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren to introduce resolutions in Congress to withhold money for the military use of drones and make restitution for injuries and damages drones have caused.

∎ Another resolution would declare opposition to a natural gas pipeline being proposed by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company based on concerns about the environmental impact and risks posed by fracking.

Voters will also be asked to approve $14,352 for new self-contained breathing apparatuses for the fire department and $36,000 to purchase and equip a new police cruiser. Other matters deal with repair projects at Leverett Elementary School including spending $7,250 to fix the brick on the south wall of the school, and another $4,850 to repair its roof.

Candidates for election to town posts will be nominated from the floor of the Town Meeting. If more than one person is nominated for any position, a ballot will be written and an election held between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m.

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