Shutesbury representatives dealing with a tough crowd
Well over half the 2.5 hour "Four Towns Meeting" this morning consisted of sometimes vitriolic discussion of Shutesbury's self serving presentation requesting a change in the Regional Assessment formula from the current rolling five year average (equal cost per student) back to the state Statutory Method which uses a blend of voodoo based on property values, average income and aggregate wealth.
Simply put, the main difference is between perceived "ability to pay" versus the undeniable equity of everybody pays the exact same cost per students. Thus the more students you have in the system the higher your costs.
And Shutesbury representatives were quick to admit that their costs are going up because of increased enrollments.
Outgoing Finance Director Sandy Pooler pointed out there are "Imperfections in statutory method measurement of wealth"
Response from the other three towns was downright testy ranging from a Pelham official branding it "really outrageous" to Leverett representative Kip Fonsh linking it to Shutesbury's lack of support for the expanded Regionalization from current grades 7-12 all the down to PreK:
"Context is everything. The Regional Agreement has worked remarkably well over five decades. I'm profoundly distressed and disturbed over this presentation. You failed to put forth the expanded Regional proposal that was four years in the making. This past year all I’ve heard is lack of action on the part of Shutesbury to educate its citizens about how Regionalization would address their needs. I have not heard a single positive thing! Now I hear Michael DeChiara saying he would not support it. If you don’t advertise, people will not come out. This presentation represents a shift in the culture of the Region. You have not lifted a finger for Regionalization. That’s alarming."
The four town school Region is bound by a 50+ year old Regional Agreement that requires a unanimous vote of all four Town Meetings to amend. But only three of four are needed to pass the annual budget.
Town reps were a mix of school committee, finance committee and select board
The Region has used the current equitable five year rolling average assessment method since 2008 and any method that differs from the state Statutory Method must also be approved by all four towns.
Every year since 2008 all four towns have passed a Town Meeting article calling for use of the alternative method to fund the Regional School Budget, and then the next article to pass would be their share of that budget.
So in other words little Shutesbury, with only 4% of the Region's population, can vote down the use of the more equitable method favored by the other 96% and that would then automatically switch financing back to the original statutory method.
Either way the proposed budget contribution of $19,539,329 from the four towns stays the same.
Of course at that point two other towns could then vote down the budget (which requires three-out-of-four to pass) because they dislike the extra increase in costs shifted to them.
Like Amherst for instance. Under the current assessment method Amherst would pay $15,196,144 of the total budget of $19,539,329 a 2.5% increase over last year; but under the Statutory Method Amherst would pay $15,465,851 an additional increase of $269,707 or a 4.3% increase over last year.
The Amherst Finance Committee has set guidelines for all town departments to keep budget increases to a maximum of 2.5%.
Shutesbury representatives did seem shell shocked by the universally hostile reaction to their budget eating Modest Proposal, and chances are they're only bluffing, however:
Amherst Finance Committee Chair Kay Moran said the towns may want to think about creating two town budgets this year, one with each method.