Amherst-Pelham Regional School District reps find way to avoid $300k in budget cuts

Staff Writer
Thursday, February 23, 2017

AMHERST — Representatives for the four towns that make up the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District have come to a tentative agreement for calculating assessments that should prevent possible budget cuts totaling up to $300,000.

At a recent meeting involving the Select Boards and Finance Committees in Amherst, Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham, a consensus was reached on supporting a formula for the assessment that will be called the “10 percent wealth assessment method.”

This assessment method is expected to allow each town to support a $31.36 million budget proposal, a 1.8 percent, or $555,678 increase, over the current year’s budget, when Town Meetings are held in April and May.

Under the tentative agreement, the assessment will be calculated as 10 percent the five-year average of each town’s statutory minimum contributions, with the other 90 percent the existing regional agreement that factors in wealth and enrollment, said Sean Mangano, business manager for the district.

Chapter 70 state aid for education and other money supports the budget, leaving the towns responsible for $19.77 million. Under this assessment, Amherst’s would increase by 2 percent, or $305,380, to $15.5 million, Shutesbury’s would increase by 2 percent, $35,408 to $1.74 million, while Leverett’s would go down by 1.9 percent, or $28,163, to $1.49 million, and Pelham’s would down by 8 percent, or $90,797, to $1.03 million.

The budget proposal has $151,727 in additions, Mangano said, including $70,000 for equity program and staffing recommended by the School Equity Task Force. The budget also preserves an investment into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM education, and expands the district’s one to one computer initiative to eighth grade.

“Just the fact we’re looking at additions is a good thing,” Mangano said.

This alternative method replacing the existing regional agreement assessment method that has been used in place of the state’s statutory method from 2008 until last year. The regional agreement formula used a five-year rolling average and equalized valuations to determine each town’s assessment.

If the towns reverted to the statutory method, both Amherst and Pelham would see substantial increases that would force cuts to the overall budget.

But Leverett officials this year had expressed concern that too much weight being given to wealth was unfair, since prominent resident, Yankee Candle founder Michael Kittredge, skews property values.

The new one-year solution will be implemented as the Regional Assessment Method Working Group continues toward a long-term solution that will take into account each town’s ability to pay and reduce volatility in assessments from year to year.

Amherst Select Board Chairwoman Alisa Brewer said getting a temporary fix is important.

“We appreciate the progress made on that because we know it’s been very challenging,” Brewer said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.