Amherst-Pelham district towns back regional school assessments

  • Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 12:08:06 AM

AMHERST — All four towns that make up the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District have agreed to the formula that calculates the share of the fiscal year 2020 budget for which each community is responsible.

Pelham voters at Town Meeting Saturday made their town the final one to approve the revised assessment method that determines how much each community pays toward the $32.09 million budget for the middle and high schools. Amherst, Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham cover $20.6 million of this budget, with the remainder of the funding coming from state aid and other sources.

Though this means the assessment formula is resolved for now, Sean Mangano, the finance chief for the schools, said in an email that officials from the four towns likely will be discussing the topic again leading into the next budget cycle.

That discussion culminated in March with agreement among municipal leaders on the formula, known as Option A, or the 50 percent minimum contribution method, which was developed and presented by Mangano.

While Pelham easily adopted the formula, following quick approvals by Amherst’s Town Council and Leverett Town Meeting, there was a lengthy discussion at Shutesbury Town Meeting about whether the formula was fair to its residents, with an argument that the town has spent $2 million more over the past decade than if the region had used what is known as the statutory method. That method, created under the Education Reform Act of the 1990s, factors in income and property values.

But George Arvanitis, a member of the Shutesbury Finance Committee, said residents of his town should understand that the revised formula will actually be providing tax relief to Shutesbury for the next few years.

Current projections, Arvanitis said, show that the town’s assessment in fiscal year 2021 will actually go down, and that the gap between what Shutesbury pays using the statutory method compared to this alternative method will become smaller, meaning there is tax relief coming for taxpayers in Shutesbury.

“It will also protect all four towns from the full volatility of the statutory method, while providing a compromise for those who prefer the statutory method and for those who prefer a method based on the five-year rolling average of enrollment,” Arvanitis said.

He explained that the way the revised method is calculated is 30 percent based on the statutory method and 70 percent based on the five-year rolling average of enrollment. The portion based on statutory will be increasing in the next two years, according to an agreement between officials from the four towns, and will be averaged over a five-year period.

“By continuing to phase in the increased portion of the statutory portion over the years, the region should be able to maintain level service budgets,” Arvanitis said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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