Heath Elementary School will close

  • Heath residents prepare to vote whether or not to close its Elementary School at annual town meeting Saturday, May 6, 2017, inside the school. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Heath residents cast vote whether or not to close its Elementary School at annual town meeting held Saturday, May 6, 2017, inside the school. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

  • Heath residents cast vote whether or not to close its Elementary School at annual town meeting held Saturday, May 6, 2017, inside the school. Recorder Staff/Andy Castillo—

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/6/2017 3:22:04 PM

HEATH — Faced with declining enrollment and rising per-pupil costs at the Elementary School, annual town meeting voters passed an emotional 94 to 10 vote Saturday in favor of permanently closing the school’s doors.

“We, as a town, are in a difficult situation and we have a really tough decision to make this morning. Through no fault of our own, our school has become too small to create an affordable education,” said Deb Porter, chairwoman of the Heath Education Taskforce, speaking to about 100 residents inside the Elementary School’s gymnasium.

The school’s fate now rests in the hands of the remaining Mohawk Trail Regional School district’s seven other member-towns. A unanimous decision by all district towns is required to move forward. If passed, the amendment will “return this building to the town of Heath as of July 1. It terminates the lease with the Mohawk district, and provides a buyout payment of $240,000 over three years,” Porter said.

Looking ahead, School Committee Member Budge Litchfield noted “the educational task force feels that the best position long term is to put ourselves in a position to join the Hawlemont Regional School District. It’s a change, a painful change, to see our building close its doors — but it also opens a door giving our children a viable educational future.”

To that end, the approved warrant article addresses changes to the Mohawk district’s regional agreement allowing Heath to remain a full K-12 Mohawk member town for the time being while tuitioning its children to the Hawlemont Regional School District through 2023, with the intent to join as a permanent member before then. However, if no agreement is reached, Heath children would be educated in one of Mohawk’s elementary schools, provided that all the town’s schoolchildren could be accommodated within one school.

Saturday’s hallmark vote marks a turning point in the decades-old building’s history, built in the mid-1990’s.

“We got a new heart, we got a transplant. And it was great. This was our transplant. The families were together. The kids were together, and it was wonderful. That time has passed,” said School Committee Member Bob Gruen.

“The aim now is to have the same kind of commitment, the same heart and soul and mind — now, it would be in Hawlemont. Can we do that? Yes. The kids will be back together. The families will be back together,” he continued.

A standing ovation followed comments before voters made their decision on yellow slips of paper collected in a small ballot box carried around the room.

Other Warrant Items

Voters also agreed to amend Mohawk Trail Regional School’s regional agreement making it possible for Rowe to rejoin as a Grade 7 through 12 member town. Rowe was asked to leave in 1982 because its low tax rate — bolstered by energy companies — prevented the district from receiving state aid.

In recent years, the criteria for aid has changed, however, and school officials now estimate Rowe’s inclusion would now increase the district pot by about $60,000 depending on the year.

With that, Heath’s assessment for Mohawk’s regional operating expenses this upcoming is $815,625. Another motion agreed to pay $136,257 for the town’s cut of Franklin County Technical School’s projected expenses.

Elsewhere on the agenda, a request for $122,000 to buy a new highway truck, with $45,000 to come from the town’s “free cash” reserves, $37,550 from sale of real estate, and about $39,366 to be borrowed, was passed.

The following requests were also passed, to be paid for with money transfers and free cash reserves: $45,000 into the school/building capital improvement stabilization account; $20,000 to be deposited into a new assessors’ stabilization account.

You can reach Andy Castillo

at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo




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