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Consultants cite savings in regional elementary school district for Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury

Consultants Mark D. Abrahams of Framingham and Malcolm P. Reid presented their findings and took questions from the nearly 200 people who attended the meeting Saturday afternoon at the Amherst Regional Middle School.

A regional elementary school district would save the communities approximately $482,739 per year, according to Abrahams. The amount that the four towns contribute for elementary schools each year would decrease to $40,486,044, roughly 1.18 percent less than the current cost of $40,968,783.

The savings for each town would depend on the method that the regional school district uses to assess costs. The current secondary school region assesses communities on a per-pupil basis, but the method for determining contributions could also take the wealth of the community into account. Abrahams’ report showed that depending on the assessment methodology used, some towns could end up paying more in a regional school district than they do currently.

Questions from the audience focused on the financial implications of regionalization, but some people had concerns about the impact on the quality of education.

Phyllis Keenan, a former Leverett resident who now lives in Amherst, said that she is opposed to regionalization because she believes that the Leverett and Shutesbury schools are much better at handling special needs.

Her sons, who are in sixth and eighth grade, both went to elementary school in Leverett, where they received special education services. Her younger son still attends Leverett elementary school as a school choice student, and her older son is now in a special-needs program outside the school system.

“I’m here because my kids did so well at Leverett and this is a way of me giving back to the community and trying to keep something going forward that has worked so well,” Keenan said.

Currently, all four towns are part of the Amherst Pelham Regional School District for secondary schools. Amherst and Pelham elementary schools have a school union, and Leverett and Shutesbury elementary schools are part of Union #28 — which also includes Erving, Wendell, and New Salem.

Several efforts to regionalize the elementary schools have been pursued since the secondary schools were joined in 1955. In 1992, regionalization was scuttled when Shutesbury voted against it.

In order for the schools to be regionalized, voters in Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury must approve a regional district at town meetings. In Amherst, an affirmative vote is needed at an election. The current schedule calls for a vote in November.

Elaine Puleo, vice chairwoman of the Regional School District Planning Committee, urged people who are hesitant about a regional elementary school district to look at the success of the secondary school district.

“I know that there are probably people in these towns who have been in the towns since we regionalized (Grades) 7 through 12,” she said. “I wasn’t here then, but I’m sure it wasn’t smooth sailing, the first year, the second year, the third year. Now it is. And now we’ve come to trust our 7-through-12 region.”

Both consultants focused on two options for creating a regional elementary school district. A new regional district could be created for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade — without altering the current secondary school district — or a regional school district could be created for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The savings to the communities would come from greater efficiency and additional state and federal aid. The most significant source of administrative savings would be the elimination of roughly $260,000.00 that the towns of Leverett and Shutesbury currently pay to their school union for administrative services.

According to Reid, the central office staff for Pelham, Amherst and the regional secondary schools would be able to take over administration of a regional elementary school district without additional cost.

A regional school district would be eligible for roughly $262,000 a year in state transportation reimbursement, according to Abrahams. He also said that the district would be likely to receive $239,000 in state bonus aid over five years.

, which is included in his analysis, and may receive transitional grants of up to $300,000, which he did not included in his calculations.

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