×

Northfield officials, residents discuss PVRS financial shortfall at forum

  • FILE PHOTO  FILE PHOTO



Staff Writer
Friday, December 07, 2018

NORTHFIELD — Financial shortfalls will continue to happen if structural changes to the Pioneer Valley Regional School District are not made soon, the HEART Committee (Honest Education and Retaining Trust) reiterated at a public forum this week, citing the data on the district’s finances and enrollment that was released two weeks ago and summarized in the Recorder.

No new data was presented at this week’s forum, but it was the first opportunity for School Committee members and town officials to speak publicly in light of the recently released data.

The committee’s prediction of future shortfalls is based on a mathematical projection of the district's finances through 2023 if no structural changes are made The HEART Committee calls it the “do nothing” scenario.

Assuming that the district’s current deficit is $600,000, as Pioneer’s Finance Director Tanya Gaylord estimates, the “do nothing” scenario projects a deficit of about $400,000 by the end of 2020. By the end of 2023, the deficit would accumulate to about $3 million.

“We’re not in a ‘do nothing’ scenario,” Superintendent Jon Scagel said.

But, so far, there are no concrete plans for the major changes that the HEART Committee is mulling, which include merging partially or fully with the Gill-Montague Regional School District, and closing Warwick Community School or Leyden’s Pearl Rhodes Elementary School or both.

Of those options, the potential school closures have been the more discussed, especially in Warwick and Leyden. A group of Warwick residents, some of whom were at the forum, have pushed back strongly, even asking their Selectboard to look into leaving the Pioneer district.

But, that option would probably be prohibitively expensive, the HEART Committee’s consultant Stephen Hemman said when asked about it at the forum. When a town leaves a school district, Hemman said, it has to pay out its portion of the district’s post-employment benefits. So for Warwick, which contributes about 10 percent of Pioneer’s budget, leaving Pioneer would cost about $1.8 million.

School closures alone would not be enough to make the district financially sustainable though. Closing Pearl Rhodes, for example, would only reduce the 2023 shortfall by about $700,000, Hemman mentioned.

“If that means we need to consolidate districts, then that’s where we need to go,” said Bernardston Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Dutcher, urging the School Committee and HEART Committee to think more ambitiously. “You want to close schools? Close all four elementary schools, move everybody into (the high school building). That’s far out, isn’t it?”

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