Officials from all 4 towns: Amherst, Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury
The Regional Assessment Working Group -- yet another subcommittee formed by the Amherst Pelham Regional School Committee -- met yesterday for the first time to deliberate their charge: "Analyze historical assessments, investigate assessment alternatives, and make a recommendation of an assessment method going forward."
The "working group" is facilitated by Sean Mangano who stepped into the well worn shoes of former Finance Director Robert Detweiler after he mysteriously disappeared six months ago.
School spending accounts for the lions share of municipal budgets in all four towns. The current 50+ year old Region consists of the Middle and High School but the Regional School Committee also formed a committee almost three years ago to discuss and plan for regionalization at the pre-K through six grade as well.
The criteria for the working group is to come up with a finance method that is fair, predictable, affordable, easy to explain to the voters and one that avoids budget buster spikes for individual towns. Or what one member referred to as "No nukes."
Obviously the equitable thing is for all four towns to pay the same cost per student. Currently the assessment method takes that into consideration but is also based on a "five year rolling average." And that seems to generate "a hit" to individual towns about once every five years.
Discussion centered around what is fair vs equitable, or ... how do you provide a "circuit breaker" or "cap" to help any one overburdened town deal with what could be a budget buster?
Amherst Finance Director Sandy Pooler, obviously a numbers guy, wondered how you define "ability to pay?" He seemed to approve of the common sense policy of everybody paying the same cost per student, thinking it might better "resonate" with voters.
The group will meet every other week and expect to have a recommendation for the Amherst Regional School Committee sometime in September.
Approval will require a simple majority vote by the RSC and then all four Town Meetings must endorse the new assessment method; although after that only three-out-of-four approvals will be required to pass the Regional Budget.
(left to rt) Maria Geryk, Kay Moran, Alisa Brewer, Bernie Kubiak, Andy Steinberg