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The amendment committee is updating the decades old regional agreement between the towns of Adams and Cheshire on jointly educating their children.

RAAC Continue to Discuss ACRSD Town Assessments

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — Despite the closure of one school and the possibility of another in the near future, the committee working to amend the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District agreement is looking to carve out areas for independent town assessments. 

After cleaning up some language on Monday in Section Four of the agreement that outlines how the town assessments are built, the panel moved on to discussing adding in a mechanism that would allow one member town to increase funding without triggering a proportional increase in the other community.

"It seems to me that this is the section where people want to see more local control over some of the spending" Cheshire representative Edmund St. John IV said. "I think the point is to allow town meeting the ability to have some input."

The Regional Agreement Amendment Committee, or RAAC, was formed late last year to overhaul the antiquated agreement between the two towns. The district brought on Stephen Hemman, the assistant director of the Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools to facilitate the amendment process that will ultimately need to be voted on by both Cheshire and Adams town meetings.

St. John noted that, in 2016, Cheshire had intentions to increase its assessment to fund the operation of Cheshire Elementary School, which was slated to close after a reconfiguration of the district prompted by budgetary issues.

He said Cheshire was unable to do this because it would have drastically increased Adams' assessment.

"A lot of the time, one town is held by the other town's ability to afford certain payment ... like this past year when folks in Cheshire wanted to step up to the plate and allocate more," he said. "They were told they couldn't without affecting Adams' assessment and it seems like there was some confusion last year, so I think it would be nice to put something in should a town want to do that."

Hemman said the committee can form a special assessment that would have to spell out these terms. He added issues could arise if one community was funding more and creating a vastly unequal education experience for their students.

He said it is also possible to add language that would allow towns to gift funds for specific reasons to the district but the funds would have to be separate from the budget.

But, he added, the School Committee would still have to accept any gift.   

Business Manager Erika Snyder added that it is also a question of scale and sustainability. She said towns allocating money through town meeting for new laptops, as they did a few years ago, is much different than funding the operation of a school.

Committee member Paul Butler said if town meeting fails to allocate the funds for these long-term expenditures, they have to be pulled out of the budget.

"Where it gets tricky is it is really easy for a community to say, purchase books one year for a school because there won't be a cost next year," he said. "But if you want to institute a program, hire a teacher or open a school, what happens if that money burns up next year?"

Cheshire representative Justin Kruszyna brought up the state funding formula that bases the assessment for each town on a community's ability to fund education. Because Cheshire is considered the wealthier community, it funds a larger portion of the budget than its actual student population.

"Is there a way to get us back more on fair terms?" he asked. "It is not fair to Cheshire."

Snyder said the district really cannot change this formula but Hemman said the district could base the assessment on something other than student population and try to work out a new assessment.

The committee will discuss this further at a future meeting.

Tags: assessment,   regional agreement,   

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