School, cemetery funding draws discussion at first half of Charlemont Town Meeting

  • Hawlemont Regional School District School Committee member Elizabeth Van Iderstine speaks at Charlemont’s Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

  • Members of the Charlemont Selectboard at Annual Town Meeting on Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/BELLA LEVAVI

Staff Writer
Published: 5/24/2023 3:31:53 PM

CHARLEMONT — Despite some disagreements about school and cemetery funding, Charlemont residents approved all the financial articles, 1 through 15, on their Annual Town Meeting warrant Tuesday night.

In the gymnasium of Hawlemont Regional School, 76 voters convened to discuss the 31-article warrant. They completed the first half and decided to postpone the rest of the meeting until Tuesday, May 30, at 6 p.m.

During discussion of the proposed $4.37 million omnibus budget for fiscal year 2024, which increased by 2.2% over the current figures, residents focused their attention on a spike in Hawlemont costs over the past several years. Although the proposed school budget of $1.32 million represents less than a 1.4% increase from the current figures, it has increased by about 50% since fiscal year 2021.

“If you put your faith in the School Committee, I am telling you it is misplaced. … They are working for Boston,” argued former Selectboard member Marguerite Willis. “Rural schools are shown to be underfunded. Boston will not change if we are willing to pick it up.”

Several Hawlemont School Committee members and Superintendent Sheryl Stanton spoke about the difficulties of funding rural schools, and how they are advocating statewide to increase rural aid. In fact, School Committee members, administrators and students with the Mohawk Trail and Hawlemont regional school districts, along with elected officials from member towns, converged on the State House earlier this month.

One School Committee member, Elizabeth Van Iderstine, was particularly passionate while speaking.

“Why do you hate public schools?” Van Iderstine asked Willis. “To say we are supporting Boston is ludacris.”

With 12 votes against the Hawlemont budget line item and 48 for it, the school budget ultimately passed.

Also inspiring discussion was Article 8, which allocated $500 for the upkeep of the three town-owned cemeteries. Residents voted to increase this allocation to $1,000. Selectboard Chair Valentine Reid said it would cost about $4,000 per year for reasonable upkeep of the cemeteries.

Resident Stephen Thayer said he has volunteered to mow one of the cemeteries before and could continue doing so if the town reimburses him for the cost of gasoline and trimmer line. He also suggested the town should form an association to ensure the upkeep of the cemeteries.

“$500 is a slap in the face to our forefathers,” Thayer said.

Further discussion ensued regarding a request from Star Atkeson, secretary to the boards, to split up her role into two 10-hour positions. In 2021, residents had a lengthy discussion to create her 20-hour position. Many spoke against the proposed split, saying two people may not be able to fill those hours throughout the year, and the position was created with benefits to attract well-qualified candidates.

The discussion was eventually cut off, with town officials arguing that Town Meeting was not an appropriate time to discuss the intricacies of a position change.

Article 16 was passed over due to a lack of free cash leftover from this fiscal year, and the additional 15 articles will be considered next week.


Tuesday also marked the town election, which saw a 12% voter turnout. There was one contested race, for a five-year seat on the Parks and Recreation Commission, between incumbent William Harker and newcomer Stephen Thayer. Harker retained the position, receiving 63 votes.

Two positions, for which there were no candidates on the ballot, remain unfilled: a Planning Board associate member with a three-year term and a Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee member with a one-year term.

The remaining results are as follows:

■Selectboard, three-year term — William Harker, 80 votes.

■Board of Assessors, three-year term — Karen Rau, 103 votes.

■Hawlemont Regional School District School Committee, three-year term — Elizabeth Van Iderstine, 106 votes.

■Tyler Library trustee, three-year term — Andrea Santos, 104 votes.

■Moderator, one-year term — Robert Handsaker, 104 votes.

■Tree warden, three-year term — Andrew Mueller, 99 votes.

■Board of Health, three-year term — Robert Lingle, 109 votes.

■Planning Board, five-year term — Jennifer Mooney, 12 votes.

■Planning Board, one-year term — Star Atkeson, 20 votes.

Reach Bella Levavi
at 413-930-4579 or

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the number of candidates who were running for a five-year term on the Parks and Recreation Commission. Incumbent William Harker retained the position over competitor Stephen Thayer.


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