Heath officials agree to pay school district for $44K assessment error

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-03-2023 4:18 PM

HEATH — After a year of deliberation, town officials have agreed to pay $44,443 to the Mohawk Trail Regional School District for a fiscal year 2022 assessment error.

“The Selectboard and Finance Committee have decided they will pay the amount the school district is claiming the town owes,” Town Coordinator Hilma Sumner said.

Because the assessment is from a previous fiscal year, voters will need to approve the payment at annual Town Meeting in May.

In February 2022, Sheryl Stanton, superintendent of the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, notified Mohawk Trail’s member towns that Heath had been assessed for only 10 students who were enrolled in Mohawk Trail’s elementary schools and not for the 33 Heath students who were attending Hawlemont under an unusual district agreement with Heath.

In July 2022, the Selectboard wrote a letter to the School Committee asking for more information about the assessment error. Most correspondence from the town has been in executive session.

The agreement, negotiated at the time of the Heath Elementary School closure, was for Mohawk Trail to pay tuition, transportation and special needs costs for Heath students to attend Hawlemont, and for Mohawk Trail to then be repaid by the town’s school assessment.

The mistaken low-enrollment calculation for Heath resulted in overcharges for five member towns — giving them a larger share of district costs based on faulty enrollment ratios. A letter from Stanton explained the mistake and corrected other towns’ assessments. Those overpayments credited back to member towns are: Ashfield, $9,476; Buckland, $12,231; Colrain, $9,621; Plainfield, $3,400; and Shelburne, $9,713.

News first came out about Heath’s decision to pay the $44,443 when a member of the Selectboard told the Heath representative on the School Committee about the payment, according to School Committee Chair Martha Thurber. Correspondence from the lawyer representing Heath confirmed with the committee’s lawyer that the town is willing to pay it.

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“I hope that this means we can dispense with communicating through our lawyers,” Thurber said. “Heath has been a great supporter of the district. We hope we can resume a normal relationship with them.”

Heath officials are still deciding whether the full amount will be paid over the course of one year or spread out over the next several.

“It has been a long process,” Sumner said.

Bella Levavi can be reached at 413-930-4579 or blevavi@recorder.com.

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