Colrain, Heath agree on plan to share school expenses

  • Talia Miller, service learning coordinator at Colrain Central School, reads a book to first-graders. Contributed Photo

  • First-graders at Colrain Central School work on an assignment in their classroom. Contributed Photo

For the Recorder
Published: 2/3/2022 3:46:35 PM
Modified: 2/3/2022 3:45:05 PM

Colrain and Heath Selectboard members have reached an agreement to share future capital costs for Colrain Central School, now that Heath’s elementary-age students will be educated there starting next school year.

The cost-sharing arrangement echoes the plans long in place for Buckland and Shelburne, who share costs for the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, and Ashfield and Plainfield, who share the same for Sanderson Academy.

Heath officials decided last fall to have Colrain Central School educate the town’s students in preschool through sixth grade, having opted not to continue a tuition agreement with the Hawlemont Regional School District, through which Heath’s elementary-age students have been educated since Heath Elementary School closed in 2017. Budge Litchfield, the Heath representative to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee, previously explained the possibility of Hawlemont leaving its shared superintendency arrangement with Mohawk Trail, issues about how voting would work and financial issues ultimately led to Heath’s decision to “pull the plug.”

The two Selectboards met via Zoom on Wednesday to review a plan proposed by Heath that is predicated on the ratio of preschool through grade six enrollment from each member town as of Oct. 1.

Since the coming school year will be Heath students’ first at Colrain Central School, any new capital expenses in the first four years will be based on the average ratio of students from each preceding year. In the fifth year, it will be based on a five-year average.

“We felt it was a logical system to set up,” commented Heath Selectboard member Sue Lively. “It’s tried and true, and the district already has the language in it to make it happen.”

“I think it sounds reasonable,” said Colrain Selectboard Chair Joe Kurland.

“Why try to reinvent the wheel?” added Colrain Selectboard member Mike Slowinski. “I think this is the way to go.”

However, Colrain Central School is still paying off roughly $30,000 already incurred in capital debt, expected to be paid in the next two years.

Current debt was not addressed in the proposal and thus a 20-minute discussion ensued.

“I do not feel it’s reasonable to ask you guys to assume those (debts) because you weren’t part of the school at the time,” Slowinski said to the Heath board members, noting he was speaking personally. “I don’t think it’s worth discussing.”

Kurland, however, was not sure at first.

“I don’t think it makes a huge difference, but I do think the Heath students will be benefiting from the improvements made,” he said. “I’d be OK including that in the shared amount, but I’m not going to insist upon it.”

“Obviously, Heath would not like to assume capital costs you incurred before we got there, but Colrain will have to work on it,” Lively said.

At first it seemed the two Colrain Selectboard members preferred to wait a week and discuss it when their third board member would hopefully be present.

“I’m going to guess that if the number of Heath students coming to Colrain is about 10%, and the outstanding debt is $30,000, it would come to about $3,000,” Kurland said.

Heath Town Coordinator Hilma Sumner noted Colrain might want to find out if an agreement requiring Heath to pay capital costs incurred previously would be legal.

After some discussion, however, Kurland agreed not to pursue asking Heath to pay old debt.

“The amount we’re looking at is not so huge as to get into a big to-do about it,” he said. “I will go along with not asking Heath to pay for the obligations we’ve already incurred.”

Both Kurland and Slowinski then voted to approve the plan as presented and not to hold Heath responsible for the school’s old debt. A joint board letter will now be sent to the Mohawk Trail School Committee so the district’s attorney can review the agreement.

Lively thanked Colrain “for helping us through yet another difficult transition for our school.”


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