Towns zero in on funding formula for Amherst-Pelham Regional School District

  • Amherst-Pelham Regional High School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, November 27, 2017

AMHERST — The four towns that make up the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District may be nearing a new agreement for calculating how they will pay their share of the costs for educating students at the middle and high schools beginning July 1, 2018.

The latest assessment methodology, which was recommended by the Amherst Select Board last week, will include a factor for how wealthy each community is and how many students they are sending to the district’s schools, both based on five-year averages.

Representatives from the select boards and finance committees in Amherst, Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury will meet at the middle school library at 9 a.m. Saturday in an attempt to come to an agreement on the funding formula that will be used.

The Amherst Select Board, with chairman Douglas Slaughter abstaining because he is an employee of the schools, unanimously endorsed a plan presented by a consultant to the Assessment Method Working Group, which has members from the four towns and school officials.

Sean Mangano, business manager for the regional schools, told the Amherst Select Board that this plan, which is dubbed S10, seems to be the most viable. Mangano said it is a compromise for the four towns as it is not the best method for any community, and it stays within budget guidelines set by Amherst, where the assessment increase can’t exceed 2½ percent rise.

The consultant ranked the formulas based on several factors, including predictability, volatility and understandability.

In addition to Amherst, Mangano said Pelham and Shutesbury officials seem amenable to the formula, which starts with the minimum required district contribution calculated by the state, with the excess contribution divided evenly between the median aggregate income for each town, which Mangano said removes high income residents who can skew a town’s actual wealth, and the five-year enrollment average.

The formula determines how the towns will contribute toward the estimated $20.16 million budget through assessments. Under this proposal, Amherst would see its assessment rise by $385,276, or 2½ percent, from $15.5 to $15.89 million. Pelham would face the largest increase, at 3.4 percent, or $34,753, from $1.04 million to $1.07 million. Leverett would see a .35 percent jump, or $5,186 increase, from $1.493 million to $1.498 million, while Shutesbury’s share would drop by 1.7 percent, or $29,884, from $1.74 million to $1.71 million.

The regional agreement formula that began in 2008 used a five-year rolling average and equalized valuations to determine each town’s assessment. But in 2015, Shutesbury officials pushed for a return to the state’s statutory method, which factors in both income and property values.

For the 2016 budget season, Mangano created what was known as the 10 percent taxable property method that reduced what Amherst and Shutesbury were obligated to pay, and increased the assessments for both Leverett and Pelham. The formula was changed this year to 15 percent of taxable property values.

Select Board member Andrew Steinberg said the assessment formula has been a “very difficult topic,” which has been both tiring and time-consuming. Reaching a methodology that will last, rather than redoing it every year, will reduce this strain, he said.

If the plan is acceptable, the working group will make a recommendation to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee, which would take a vote, and then bring the assessment formula and budget projections to town meetings in each of the four towns.

All four towns must agree to the new formula for it to go into effect.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com