CHESHIRE, Mass. — Although both the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee and town officials lament the closing of Cheshire Elementary School, they all agree that a budget must be passed.
The Selectmen on Tuesday agreed with Superintendent Robert Putnam and School Committee members Paul Butler and Adam Emerson that not passing the school and town budget out of protest would wreak havoc on both.
"Logistically, if the town votes down the budget there is no amendment, there is no chance," Selectman Edmund St. John IV said. "It would do more harm than good if we didn't accept it and it is time that we accept the budget."
Both town and school officials fear that a contingent of parents and residents charged with reversing the anticipated closing of the school will strong arm the vote at Monday's town meeting and shoot down the town and school budget.
St. John said doing this would not "turn back the clock" but would only seal the fate of Cheshire School as it would push the budget process closer to state deadlines and could mean drastic reductions that would undo all the district's financial efforts.
Butler said these impacts would reach beyond Cheshire and possibly hurt every student in the district.
St. John added that there is also a rumor that this community group also plans to stonewall Article 3 that would allow the town to use $170,000 from free cash to offset the tax rate with the belief that the money should be put toward the school.
Selectwoman Carol Francesconi added that the town only has a surplus in free cash this year because of a light winter in 2015 that lead to a larger return from the snow and ice removal budget. She said this is the town's one chance to make some needed infrastructure improvements.
"We have been putting these projects off because we did not have the money," she said. "Now we have the money and our infrastructure needs attention and our financial independence depends on that money."
Town Administrator Mark Webber said the failure of the Article 3 would trigger an immediate cut of $110,000 from the budget.
Francesconi said this is not possible and the only way out would be an override, which would delay the town's budget process.
"We can't do it," she said. "The budget is bare bones and we do not have that kind of money floating around."
She said this could mean even more devastation if there is a town emergency and Cheshire's financial cushion has been completely drained.
Emerson, the newly elected Cheshire representative on the School Committee, said it is imperative that the town and committee communicate these impacts because not passing the budget would not only hurt the district but "cripple" the town.
Putnam reiterated that the district has been working with the Department of Education to form "turnaround plans" and that it will be able to do more once consolidated.
"One of the things that is essential here is ACRSD has not been effective in getting all students to learn," Putnam said. "We are a Level 3 district because we fail to meet the state standards. We need to be able to that and with this budget, we can do it."
Putnam said the budget is sustainable and actually adds in needed programming that will attract students as well as support staff that will aid struggling students.
He said this is the first step in a multiyear process to retain students and increase the school's leveling.
"This is a building budget and is something that is going to draw them back and increase student performance," Putnam said. "This budget tries to address cuts that have been made throughout the years and move us out of a Level 3 district."
He added that the same teachers will be teaching the children and the same administrators will be leading the schools. He said there will now be grade-level teams and more collaboration because they will be in the same building.
Emerson said he was somewhat insulted that some people think Cheshire teachers would not be as effective at C.T. Plunkett in Adams.
"I am insulted that people think that Cheshire teachers can't do as good a job in Adams as they do in Cheshire," he said. "No one is upset about the closing as I am… that is why I am on the School Committee now but we have to, I hate to say it, acknowledge it and move on. It is like a death."
St. John said he rather move forward together than dismantle the district.
"I look at this through the eyes of my 2-year-old: do I want her to go to school in Cheshire or to go to school in a district that is thriving even if the school is physically in Adams?" he said. "Obviously I never liked the decision that was made but to some extent, you have to move forward and do what is best for the education of all of the students."
"This has to improve, we can't be doing all of this for nothing."
Both the town officials and School Committee members agreed that they must communicate the impacts of not passing the budget and address the parents who may be on the fence about it. They agreed it would be beneficial to send a condensed version of a presentation given at this past Monday that outlines how the district will operate next school year.
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