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The newly reorganized Cheshire Board of Selectmen voted Robert Ciskowski as chairman and welcomed new member Edmund St. John IV.

Petition Articles Ask Cheshire to Raid Reserves to Fund School

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — Cheshire School advocates want town meeting to allocate some $300,000 to fund the operation of the elementary school for a year.
 
Resident Michelle Whitney's presented the citizens' petitions to the Selectmen on Tuesday with the muscle of more than 231 signatures behind them asking to pull $300,000 from stabilization and free cash.
 
"There are multiple questions but when they present us with this, we have to put it on the warrant," Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said. "There are additional questions."
 
Since the vote to close Cheshire Elementary School in March, a group of residents have petitioned the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee to rescind its vote and find a way to fund the operation of the prekindergarten to Grade 5 school for at least one more year.
 
The group has also pressured the town's state representatives to find funds to keep the school open.
 
The articles came as two citizens' petitions with bulleted sections.
 
The first petition will ask town meeting to allocate $150,000 from stabilization and $150,000 from free cash. The same petition also asks town meeting to appropriate $300,000 for the operation of the school. This second chance article would be null and void if the first two pass.
 
The third bulleted item on the petition would allow the town to use outside raised funds to offset this $300,000.
 
The second petition calls for an emergency amendment to the school district agreement that would allow the town to provide more funds to Cheshire School without causing a proportional increase to Adams' allocation.
 
Adams would also have to vote at its town meeting to approve the emergency agreement.
 
Whitney said the second petition will be delivered to the School Committee and that Adams residents plan to bring a citizens' petition to Adams Town Hall sometime this week.
 
The Selectmen were not sure procedurally how to package the articles because town meeting cannot alter the budget; it can vote it up or down.
 
There was also concern about where the School Committee comes into play. New Selectman Edmund St. John IV, a former School Committee member, said he thought the amendment would have to stem from the School Committee.
 
Francesconi dug into the regional agreement and said the amendment can come from the School Committee with a two-thirds vote. The other option is if 10 percent of the registered voters from either town sign a petition and present it to the School Committee, the committee must send the amendment articles to the towns.
 
If all of the signatures are actual Cheshire residents, the amendment petition would have to have the support of 10 percent of the 2,389 registered voters in town. 
 
The Selectmen added that the School Committee would still have to rescind its vote and even though the articles stated that the school would continue to house pre-K through Grade 5, this still may be up to the School Committee.
 
Francesconi also had major concerns about running down the town's free cash. With other free cash articles slated for town meeting, free cash would drop down to $81,000 if they were all approved.
 
"That is a stretch I think," she said. "I think something like that doesn't take into consideration the general well-being of the town finically."
 
Selectman Robert Ciskowski was equally concerned about draining the stabilization account.
 
"Traditionally this would be used for emergencies, and I would be reluctant to tap into it," he said. 
 
The Selectmen also were unsure how to communicate these articles to the public. St. John suggested a "baby town meeting" to go through the warrant beforehand.
 
"It is just informational so they can see what the budget looks like a week before and have time to think about the articles," he said.  
 
The Selectmen voted to close the town meeting warrant after the petitions were included. But because of the many "what-ifs" the new articles present, the board agreed to ask town counsel to chime in on how the town can legally present these citizen petitions.
 
"I don't know how to line this thing up," Town Administrator Mark Webber said. "My head is spinning."
 
In other business, the board also reorganized: Ciskowski will now serve as chairman, St. John as secretary of buildings and grounds and Francesconi as clerk.

Tags: cheshire school,   cheshire_budget,   town meeting 2017,   town meeting warrant,   

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