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Worthington considers leaving Gateway Regional School District

Students leave the Russell H Conwell school at the end of the day and head over to t

CAROL LOLLIS Students leave the Russell H Conwell school at the end of the day and head over to t Purchase photo reprints »

Each town in the district — Blandford, Middlefield, Huntington, Chester, Montgomery, Russell and Worthington — will get a chance to vote on the proposed Gateway Regional Withdrawal Amendment. Worthington cannot leave the district unless it receives unanimous approval from all member-towns. Worthington will also have to create a tuition agreement to educate junior and high school students with another school district for the plan to be accepted by the state Commissioner of Education.

If Worthington leaves, the Gateway district would lose a net $755,931 in annual revenue. This money would have to be made up by higher annual assessments for other member towns. It is too late for Worthington to exit the district in fiscal 2014, which begins in July.

The town would still be on the hook for capital debt payments incurred through district school construction.

Voters will consider the proposal to leave the district at the annual Town Meeting, which will be held at Town Hall on May 4 starting at 9:30 a.m.

In Worthington, if the amendment is approved, the R.H. Conwell Community Education Center would become a public school, educating resident children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade. The town would pay tuition to send junior and high school students outside Worthington for their education.

“It will put a public elementary school back in town,” said Thomas Wisnauckas, a member of the Worthington Ad Hoc Education Committee. “High school students would attend a high school via a tuition agreement.”

This isn’t the first time Worthington has sought to separate from Gateway. In 2010, Gateway officials closed R.H. Conwell Elementary School, along with two other schools in the district, due to budget shortfalls. In response, concerned citizens and parents started the private school, R.H. Conwell Community Education Center, in the same building at 147 Huntington Road.

The idea of fully leaving the district began at that time, Wisnauckas said.

Worthington now sends 54 children to the Gateway system in pre-kindergarten through Grade 12. For the coming fiscal year, Worthington is expected to pay the district $1.2 million. If Worthington left, the loss in revenue to Gateway would be offset by some savings, including $340,000 the district pays in transportation costs, as well as charter and choice tuition for that town. And Worthington would still have to pay an annual $90,000 to Gateway, its share of the regional district’s capital debt. The district would need to make up for a $755,931 net loss in revenue if the town left.

To cover the budget gap, individual town assessments would increase. If Worthington left, according to an example provided by the Gateway district superintendent’s office, payments would increase in this way: Blandford would pay about $102,000 more to the district; Chester would pay an additional $136,000; Huntington, $204,000; Middlefield, $44,000; Montgomery, $72,000; and Russell, $198,000.

Gateway Regional Superintendent David Hopson said he doesn’t think Worthington will save money by taking its children out of the district.

“Of course the other side of the equation is that Worthington would need to establish its own school committee, fund the entire cost of education for its children including administrative, staffing, capital, utility, supply, insurance, transportation, central office and miscellaneous costs as well as pay for outgoing choice and tuition students,” Hopson wrote in his weekly online Superintendent’s Corner column.

It would cost Worthington $363,000 to pay tuition to educate the 26 junior and high school students the town now sends to Gateway, according to estimates provided on the Gateway Regional School District website. This averages out to about $14,000 per pupil.

Wisnauckas said the town would use the money it currently sends to Gateway to pay for tuition.

“We would have our money stay in town, basically,” he said. “High school students would still go out of town.”

Even if Worthington was able to leave the district, the town could still end up spending money for students to attend Gateway schools. The town could work out a tuition agreement with Gateway, and families could choose to send their children to the district through school choice.

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