Budget still contentious for Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools

Staff Writer
Friday, December 23, 2016

AMHERST — When Shutesbury officials expressed concern last year that the town wouldn’t be able to afford its assessment for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools, a new way for calculating how much each of the four towns would pay toward the schools’ $30.8 million budget was created.

This temporary initiative, which factored in property values in each community and replaced a formula based only on a five-year rolling average of each town’s student enrollment, was then adopted by the four towns that make up the district at Town Meetings in the spring.

Since then, a working group has been meeting to study the assessment formula and make a recommendation on a revised formula.

With weeks before a fiscal year 2018 budget needs to be developed, the assessment formula, and the ability for each town to pay, will again be a topic of discussion for elected and appointed officials in Amherst, Leverett, Pelham and Shutesbury. They will meet at the middle school library at 9 a.m. Jan. 7. A meeting originally scheduled for Saturday was postponed due to snow in the forecast.

George Arvanitis, co-chairman of the Shutesbury Finance Committee, said in an email that he expects school officials to present a new interim way of handling assessments.

“This temporary method would be used while the four town assessment working group continues to develop a new regional assessment method, for the long term,” Arvanitis said.

The change in formula for this year meant Leverett paying an additional $24,000 toward the regional schools budget, and Shutesbury $23,000 less, than they would have under the previous formula.

Leverett Select Board member Julia Shively said financial figures, though, show that Leverett has no more ability to pay than Shutesbury.

“We don't see any reason, based on these numbers, why we should change the regional funding formula to one wherein Leverett is paying more per student and Shutesbury is paying less,” Shively said.

Sean Mangano, finance director for the schools, said the working group met throughout the summer and will report its findings.

He added that a new method will be needed in advance of Town Meetings.

“The method approved last spring does not automatically carry forward since it is an alternative method,” Mangano said.

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