Pioneer won’t vote on school closures Thursday night

  • STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Warwick Community School  STAFF FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/9/2019 3:36:40 PM

NORTHFIELD — Votes on school closures will not be taken Thursday night at the Pioneer Valley Regional School Committee’s meeting — as had been expected — due to a legal complication.

This delay alters the committee’s plans, but administrators are optimistic the district could approve closing one or more schools in time for the spring town meetings. There have been several discussions about closing Warwick Community School and Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School to save money.

The legal issue has to do with the special state legislation that overrules the school system’s own legal guarantee that each town has its own elementary school.

The legislation’s main function is to let the district borrow money to correct its $450,000 deficit, while the district works to address the underlying budget imbalance.

To help with that, the legislation also gives the district special authority to close schools as a cost-saving measure. But, that special authority doesn’t go into effect until the money has been borrowed, administrators believe now, after a conversation on Tuesday evening with the district’s lawyer.

The loan probably will not be finalized for at least another two months, district Finance Director Tanya Gaylord said.

This pushes the decision on school closures until March or April, complicating the timeline for the towns and the schools to create their budgets for next school year.

If Leyden or Warwick has to take back ownership of its school building, the school district has to notify the town by Feb. 1, per the building leases. Originally, this was the reason for voting on school closures this month.

On Wednesday, school administrators were considering options to give the towns the notification this month, in anticipation of school closure decision; or, alternatively, Pioneer could work with the towns to change the terms of the leases.

The development of the school district’s budget will also be affected, though Gaylord said it would not be derailed. The School Committee has to approve a budget for the coming fiscal year by March 7 to give the towns sufficient notice for their spring town meetings, when they approve their own budgets and their payments to the schools.

Now, the question of school closures will not be resolved by that point, so the School Committee will initially have to approve a budget that does not account for the school closures.

That can be changed afterwards, as long as the revised budget is sent to the towns before their town meetings.

If the School Committee decides to close schools in time for the spring town meetings, a revised budget will likely be approved the same day, Gaylord said.

The committee will meet tonight as planned, and will most likely at least discuss the issue.

Contact Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ex 261.




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