In Granby, special TM yields split decision on school spending

  • At a special Town Meeting at Granby Junior-Senior High School Tuesday night, residents passed two of four articles to deal with unanticipated expenses for the school system. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Gazette Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2018

GRANBY — Faced with four articles to fund unanticipated school system expenses, voters at a special Town Meeting passed two of them on Tuesday night and voted the other two down.

The town agreed to transfer available town funds to the Granby School System to pay for tuition, transportation and accommodation expense for the district’s special education students.

Voters did not agree, however, to pay for the salary of a new second-grade teacher or the tuition of a new Granby resident who wanted to continue studying a program at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton that is not offered in Granby.

Article 1

Article 1 passed by the needed two-thirds majority, transferring from town stabilization funds $84,085 for the tuition of a special education student in need of a change of schools.

The money will help pay tuition and transportation for a special education student requiring placement outside the district, according to the Granby School Committee Chairman Emre Evren.

Dr. Herbert Abelson asked whether the town had tried negotiating the cost of tuition and transportation, and how much it costs to educate a student who is not disabled.

“It just feels pretty extraordinary when your’re talking about six times the cost of educating the average student,” Abelson said. “This is just a black box you’re asking us to vote on and it just feels tough.”

He suggested paying for another teacher, trained to meet the specific needs of the student, to keep the student in the district, would be less expensive.

The school is taking steps to improve its special education offerings, Evren said, but sometimes students can have severe physical disabilities or mental disabilities that require special care, and the school is required by state law to provide it for them.

School Committee member Jennifer Curran said during the discussion that she has four children, two of whom have special needs, and that the school system regularly funds these types of tuition, sometimes up to $200,000 per year for one student.

“There are special schools designed for these children,” Curran said. “Granby has for many years been funding the tuition of these schools.”

Article 2

Article 2 failed to pass by the required margin. It would have transferred $33,828 from available funds to pay the tuition of a Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School student who recently moved into the Granby district. Because Granby’s sister vocational school, Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School, does not offer the student’s course of study, the student is allowed by state law to continue studying at Smith.

Article 3

Article 3 also failed to pass by the required margin. It would have authorized the transfer of $49,163.03 from available funds to help pay the salary of a new second grade teacher.

“I think that’s the only thing that could be considered discretionary spending,” Mark Bail, the Select Board chairman, said. “Everything else is mandated by the state,” he said, referring to the other three articles on the warrant.

According to Superintendent of Granby Schools Sheryl Stanton, the school declined to accept several school choice students into the district this year because it didn’t want to hire another teacher. However, when eight new students moved into the district after the budget was finalized at the end of June, the system had no choice but to hire another second grade teacher.

John Libera, chairman of the Granby Finance Committee, said it recommended voting against Article 3 to send a message to the school system that they need to better balance their budgets.

Article 4

Article 4 passed with a two-thirds majority, authorizing the use of $19,500 to pay for “required transitional services” for some special needs students. These additional education services, provided to special needs students aged 18 to 22, are required by the Massachusetts Transition Planning Law.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.