To the Editor:
This coming Monday, the town of Stockbridge will hold its annual town meeting. Among the many articles to be discussed and voted upon, will be the budget for the school district and whether or not to make changes to the current district agreement.
The school budget is separated into two areas, operational and capital. Operational costs represent direct costs for educating our children, the majority of which consists of salaries and benefits for teachers and administrators. Capital costs generally represent expenditures on construction and maintenance projects.
Currently, the capital budget represents the remainder of our obligation on the bond for building the elementary and middle schools. There are approximately six years left to pay down that bond.
Our assessment of the school district budget is based on the number of students from Stockbridge attending our schools as compared to the overall number of students enrolled from our district towns.
For the last year, members of our town and the larger district community, spent time to review the school district agreement. It was originally drafted in the mid 1960s and has been slightly amended twice since. The district was originally formed to regionalize the high schools into one building, which is now Monument Mountain Regional High School. Students started attending that school in 1968.
When the district decided to consolidate the lower schools into one centralized building for each in 2004, the agreement was never amended. It should have been since the wording of it spoke directly to the elementary schools in each town as well as Searles Middle School.
As part of the discussion to amend the agreement, many topics were discussed. Not the least of which was how the district is funded. There were many heated discussions, some of which were detailed in our local papers. After about a year’s work, the group came to the conclusion to make a change to the funding formula for the capital budget only. This was a unanimous decision.
At the baby town meeting this past Monday, there were some misperceptions cast about the details of this amended agreement. I will try to clarify the details below.
This amendment will only affect the capital budget for new construction projects going forward. It will not impact the existing capital budget assessment for paying down the bond on the construction of the lower schools. That assessment will continue to use the enrollment method of assessment noted above.
The amendment makes no change to the funding formula for operational costs. It is still based on the enrollment method and also represents the lion’s share of the overall annual school budget.
The assessment for new capital projects will be based on the equalized property value for each town rather than the enrollment method.
Equalized property value (EQV) represents the total taxable real estate value for each town. As such, exempt properties such as those owned by nonprofits are not factored into the equation.
Under the new agreement, when the authorization to borrow money for a capital project is approved by the school district, each town has 60 days to vote on the borrowing of money. If any one town votes down the borrowing of money for the capital project, the school district is required to resubmit the borrowing plan, either unchanged or revised, and repeat the process till a plan is approved or the capital project is removed from consideration.
Under this new equation, Stockbridge will pay a higher contribution on new capital construction budgets for the school district. Although the rate will change from year to year, presently Stockbridge pays roughly 15 percent based on the enrollment method, but will pay approximately 30 percent under the EQV method.
For those residents of Stockbridge who only look at their taxes going up and do not account for how the money will be spent, I cannot argue with you. You are right; they will go up.
For those who are concerned for how our tax money is spent, I want to point out that since 2007, the portion of our town expenses made up by the school budget relative to other town expenditures has gone down by almost 8 percent. Although the school budget has grown since then, its rate of growth as compared to other town expenses is only 2 percent.
When you look at Stockbridge’s participation in the school district, I feel we are getting a very good deal. I would argue we would still have a very good deal even with the proposed change to the capital project funding and would still have a relatively lower impact to the town’s overall budget as compared to other town expenditures.
We have the largest school district in southern Berkshire County. It offers the broadest spectrum of programming to our children. We celebrate some of the lowest dropout rates and highest graduation rates in Berkshire County. It will be around for a long time, even as the county further consolidates its school districts.
In the end, I look at this change as an investment in our community’s future, our town’s future. Our town has lost a lot of families. Our schools are the best way to encourage new families to move back into the area.
I realize that real estate values in our town are not conducive to families living here, especially those that would rely on public education. That is a separate issue we have to work on.
We can control how our schools operate and how they can support our community. This new agreement gives the district and our community the best chance for continuing to improve our schools.
I ask that you support this amendment to the school district agreement at Town Meeting on Monday.