Mohawk Trail school district pitches assessment formula change

By BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer

Published: 04-20-2023 3:09 PM

The Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee has asked its eight member towns to add three articles to each of their Annual Town Meeting warrants that would amend the town assessment formula outlined in the regional agreement.

However, with many towns just a few weeks away from holding their meetings, some town officials and School Committee members note that making a decision this year might be too rushed.

“I understand we didn’t talk about it a lot during the budget process. That may come back to haunt us,” said School Committee Chair Martha Thurber. “That is fine, we will bring it back next year.”

The 17 pages of changes would amend the regional agreement to alter town assessments. Town assessments are currently calculated by counting the number of students enrolled on a five-year rolling average in the Mohawk Trail Regional School District. This is called “complete enrollment.” Depending on the ratio of students enrolled over that five-year period, each town pays its portion of the school budget.

The amended agreement would count all students of each town enrolled in the Mohawk Trail school district, or through School Choice, charter and other publicly funded schools. This is called “foundation enrollment.”

Right now, Mohawk Trail pays the tuition of all students who choose to attend a school outside of the district. This tuition is paid for equally by all member towns because the students who are enrolled outside of the district are not counted in each assessment.

“It is fundamentally a fairness issue,” Thurber explained. “The town [where] the student resides does not have accountability.”

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and other state agencies already use a formula driven by foundation enrollment to allocate funds, so this change would align the school district and its member towns with the rest of the state.

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Mohawk Trail Business Administrator William Lataille is working to determine the town assessment changes that would occur if the regional agreement is amended. He does not have those calculations yet. Thurber said the assessments would likely not change drastically.

The changes will come incrementally, with the assessment changing over the course of five years. Because the budget is calculated using a five-year rolling average, it will take the budget five years to adjust to the new policy.

When asked why the school district brought this proposed change to the towns so late in the process of preparing for Annual Town Meetings, Thurber explained it was a long process to write the changes, which then needed approval from DESE.

The district considered bringing the change to the towns next year, but Thurber said town administrators who attended budget subcommittee meetings suggested bringing the decision to voters this year instead.

“The town representatives encouraged us to do it and get it done rather than wait another year,” Thurber said.

All eight towns would need to approve the changes to the regional agreement for it to be modified. Thurber said she feels the vote might not pass in all towns this year.

“We will see what towns find it most problematic and we can work to eliminate those fears,” she said.

In their meeting on March 19, members of the Heath Selectboard said they would not place the three new agenda items on the Annual Town Meeting warrant because they have not been given an adequate explanation for the changes from the School Committee. Officials from all other towns the Greenfield Recorder contacted said they are discussing placing the items or have already placed the items on their warrants.

“As long as someone from Mohawk will explain it well, I anticipate it passing,” said Buckland Town Administrator Heather Butler.

One of the three involved warrant articles set to come before voters in each town describes the substance of the assessment change. The other two change dates in the regional agreement that would align with the change.

“It is esoteric and complicated,” Thurber said, “but it is an issue of fairness.”

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

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