Worthington Town meeting votes to withdraw from Gateway Regional School District
WORTHINGTON — A majority of the 102 voters at Saturday’s annual Town Meeting approved a plan for Worthington to withdraw from the Gateway Regional School district.
But the proposed change was effectively stillborn because Worthington needs the approval of all Gateway member towns to withdraw — and Middlefield voted no Saturday afternoon.
Voters also adopted a budget of $3,257,129, which includes $789,454 for the Gateway Regional School District, $282,665 for the vocational school and $14,912 for the library. And residents approved $305,000 for the purchase of a 2013 International 7400, four-wheel-drive, class A pumper truck with compressed air foam for the Fire Department.
Of the 30 articles on the warrant, a proposal for the town to withdraw from the Gateway Regional School district, and one to spend $25,000 to fund an engineering design study of the Moran building, garnered the most discussion.
At present, Worthington is part of the district, which comprises the towns of Blandford, Chester, Huntington, Middlefield, Montgomery and Russell.
“In the original agreement, each town agreed to pay a percentage based on how many students they had in the district,” Tom Wisnauckas, Finance Committee member, said. “That changed in 1992 when the Education Reform Act kicked in, requiring towns to pay based on their per-capita income.”
According to Wisnauckas, while Worthington has only 10 percent of the students in the district, the town is now required to pay more than the other member towns.
Pulling out of the regional school district would leave the other towns to make up for the loss in funding.
John Baldasaro, chairman of the Select Board in Chester, addressed the meeting, saying it would be a financial hardship to the other towns if Worthington left the district, noting that the move would increase Chester’s school budget by $126,000, forcing the town to cut other services.
“I do understand your frustration, but the increase to the other towns would be devastating,” Baldasaro said. “So, I ask that you consider what this is going to do to your neighboring towns.”
Finance Committee Chairman Joseph Boudreau, however, said the current arrangement has made Worthington “the biggest loser” in the deal.
“Every year we have paid $353,000 more than our fair share. I would hope that the other towns would realize that,” Boudreau said.
While the proposal to withdraw from the district passed by a majority vote, Worthington cannot leave the district unless it receives unanimous approval from all member towns. On Saturday afternoon, Middlefield voted no on the proposal at its annual Town Meeting.
“So now our next step is to turn to the legislative process and ask our state representatives and state senator to offer a home rule petition allowing us to have our own school district,” Wisnauckas said.
Voters approved spending $25,000 to complete an engineering study of the “Moran residence” for the purpose of determining the cost estimates to renovate the structure to be used as town offices and a police station.
The property, once belonging to the late Ralph Moran, is next to the Town Hall. Now owned by the town, the fate of the building has been in flux for several years.
“Currently, we have no police station. A closet in the fire station is an inadequate way to run a police department,” Selectman Christopher Powell said.
Yet others argued that there may be more appropriate uses for the building, saying the $25,000 would be better spent on a comprehensive needs assessment. “I think we are doing this backwards. We need to look at the needs of the town first, then see if the Moran building fits those needs,” Finance Committee member Alex Lak said.
However, having had four separate committees over the years consider use of the building, residents were ready to move forward and the article passed with a two-thirds majority.
“The building lends itself to what we want to put in. The structure is solid and we could easily meet ADA requirements,” architect Kevin O’Connor said.
“By voting for this $25,000 today, we will finally have a tangible number to work with,” Selectman Evan Johnson said. “It is time that we stop kicking this can down the road.”