Town officials in Frontier Regional district to discuss school issues
DEERFIELD — The Frontier Regional School Committee on Thursday will hold a joint meeting with the Select Boards and finance committees from Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately and Conway in an effort to increase communication.
In all, 36 public officials have been invited to the meeting at 7 p.m. in the Frontier Regional School library media center.
“We want to talk about the budget process and the needs of the school,” said Superintendent Martha Barrett. “This is a good opportunity to have a conversation with the towns.”
Topics for discussion are the limitations of Proposition 2½, the current regional school agreement, the school budget, the capital improvement budget process and K-6 or K-12 regionalization.
It will be the first time Barrett meets with town leaders officially as superintendent. Barrett, formerly the Frontier Regional School principal, succeeded Regina Nash, who retired last June.
“I’m there to listen to their concerns,” said Barrett. “This is something the towns wanted. I expect it to be informational.”
Select Board members said they hope for better communication during the budget season.
“I think the most important aspect of the first meeting with the Frontier Regional School District for the next budget process is that the superintendent and the selectmen start a dialogue that leads to support for education and respect for the taxpayers,” said Conway Select Board Chairman John O’Rourke. “We need to provide a solid education for every student and maximize the educational value of the tax dollars spent.”
David Pierce, a Select Board member in Sunderland, said he hopes all sides have good relations from the start.
“It’s important to try to improve communication, especially in terms of budgets,” he said. “One of the big issues is making sure the schools know where the towns stand in terms of the budget.”
Whately Select Board member Jonathan Edwards said he hopes the meeting is a springboard to many more conversations.
“Constant communication is critically important,” Edwards said. “These are all items we should constantly be discussing. We need to pay attention to the school budget and make sure it helps education in as fiscally a responsible way as possible.”
Capital expenses were an issue during last year’s budget season. That will be an important topic, Barrett said.
“The capital will come up in discussion,” Barrett said. “We’re going to be honest with the towns that any big projects will be under borrowing or included in the annual budget request.”
Three of four towns are required to approve an operating budget. Last spring, all four towns approved the overall budget of $9,465,693 for the current school year.
But the School Committee for the first time asked the towns to pay for $133,250 in building improvement projects as part of a new five-year capital plan.
Select Board members argued they did not have to pay for the capital plan because it was not submitted with the school operating budget.
While Whately and Conway supported their shares of the capital costs, Deerfield only supported a portion. And Sunderland’s vote to pay was dependent on support by the other three towns.
Another major item is regionalization, an idea floated several times over the years with decreasing school enrollment.
“This has come up in the past,” said Barrett. “People have expressed interest because of the budget process.”
There are currently five school districts — four separate elementary schools and one regionalized for grades 7 to 12. To govern the schools, there are five separate school committees and five budgets. But there is only one administrative office and one superintendent.
In the past, there has been debate about reorganizing the school districts into a K-12 system, or a K-6 system with two school committees.
Frontier Regional School Committee member Robert Decker supports regionalization simply to save money and to stop the duplication of efforts.
“It needs to be looked at,” said Decker. “We should look for efficiencies and make it work and make it work better.”