CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town will vote to make an emergency amendment to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District agreement that may allow it to alone fund Cheshire Elementary School for a year.
Resident Jeremy McLain told the Selectmen on Tuesday that his group has a petition with more than 250 signatures asking the town's state representatives to find emergency funds to keep to school open. However, the Selectmen are putting an article on the annual town meeting just in case the state does not come through.
"We know you have motivated people but we know the government has tight purse strings," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said.
McLain said the amendment would allow the town to sidestep the district agreement's spending ratio between Adams and Cheshire. This would allow Cheshire to completely fund Cheshire School without increasing the Adams assessment proportionally.
"I have talked to [the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education] and it can be done as long as both towns agree," he said. "We want to push this along ... this is something that has to be done quickly."
Cheshire Elementary School is slated to close at the end of this school year after the School Committee voted to pass a budget that relies on closing the building to save costs. The budget was largely dictated by Adams, which asked that its assessment stayed within a 3 percent increase. This has caused contention between the two communities.
Even if both Cheshire Elementary and C.T. Plunkett School were to be kept open, plans were to co-locate the grades so Adams and Cheshire students will be in the same classrooms in the same grades.
McLain said Adams would also have to agree to the amendment
Francesconi said this still creates a funding problem because the town does not have enough free cash to spend on the school. It is believed to cost between $350,000 and $400,000 to keep Cheshire open.
"We don't have $400,000 to give to Cheshire School," she said. "We can't just drain our free cash ... I am being the devil's advocate but that is the reality of it."
She said the town would need a Proposition 2 1/2 override. This would have to pass town meeting and a town vote.
This all needs to be done before the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.
If an override does not pass, the group would have to rely on fundraising and with deadlines approaching, Selectman Paul Astorino said fundraising will not be an option.
"You don't have enough time," Astorino said. "It's a good thought but unless you know Donald Trump personally and can call him, that is a really long shot."
The Selectmen agreed to meet with the School Committee to go over this process.
In other business, the Selectmen postponed a decision to grant Adams-Cheshire use of the building for a summer daycare program and a special education summer camp.
Although Astorino and Francesconi were open to the idea, Selectman Robert Ciskowski said his mind is made up.
"I am not really sure that is a good idea to let them in there," he said. "I don't want to be pushed by the district and I think we need to do this at our own pace."
"We have been manipulated enough and pushed into a corner by the district and I am not ready to start reusing the building."
Ciskowski said he would prefer to not let anyone use the building until the town can line up a building reuse committee. The building will revert to the town's control once it closes.
"We need to slow down on this and it is not prudent to give a committee the task and then say they have to work around these programs," he said. "We should not go off half-cocked."
Superintendent Robert Putnam, who attended the meeting, said the summer daycare program has typically been housed in the building and it serves 50 to 60 Cheshire children.
Francesconi said she felt comfortable allowing the use because the program benefited Cheshire families.
"Cheshire parents depend on that daycare and ... I hate to see those kids in that daycare punished for the situation that we are in," she said. "It is not their fault the mess we are in right now."
Putnam also asked if the Selectmen would still allow the district to keep its central office in Cheshire Elementary.
Francesconi said this could be a benefit to the town because it would receive lease money and the building will be occupied.
Ciskowski still held a hard line.
"First it was one program and now it is another program and the district office," he said. "I see the district wanting to burden Cheshire with the use of a building they abandoned and if they want to use it they should have thought of it before they abandoned it and us."
"I think it's just a foot in the door and I don't want to be steered by the district anymore."
Putnam said he did not mind postponing the decision and just wanted to have time to seek out other locations if need be.
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