Heath voters back rising education budget, school district charter changes
By DIANE BRONCACCIO
For the Recorder
Published: 5/8/2022 12:59:30 PM
Modified: 5/8/2022 12:57:50 PM
Then voters got down to business, with 23 articles on Saturday’s warrant.
Residents approved the $992,662 operating assessment for the Mohawk Trail Regional School District, which represents a 7.2% hike above the current year’s budget. While Heath’s high school enrollment is declining, its elementary enrollment is going up, said School Committee member Budge Litchfield. He pointed out that fixed costs are rising, while the amount of state aid offered is “flat.”
“This budget represents level services,” Litchfield said. “And our children are coming back from one and a half years of COVID isolation mode.”
Mohawk Trail Regional School District Superintendent Sheryl Stanton pointed out that the district is using one-time grants to support the social/emotional needs of students. For instance, the district has strengthened its elementary music program.
Finance Committee member William Emmet said his board had recommended not supporting this assessment for fiscal year 2023 “because of some discrepancy with the numbers.” There was discussion on getting clearer, more consistent numbers during future presentations — including more information on all the grant money received by the school district.
School Committee member Barbara Rode said she would like to see more detailed Heath enrollment figures and student-to-staff ratios. Stanton said the student-to-teacher ratio is 11 to 1, but Rode said she felt “increases in staff were disproportionate,” which was why she didn’t back the Mohawk Trail budget at a February hearing.
“We’re in a rainy day,” Rode said, adding that she wants “the best education for our children that we can afford,” but it has to be affordable for “people deciding between buying food versus buying fuel to heat their houses.”
Voters ultimately supported the Mohawk Trail assessment, as well as an $88,707 Franklin County Technical School assessment, in which Heath’s enrollment is increasing from seven students to nine next school year.
Attendees also backed the district-wide regional charter changes that say Heath children are to be schooled at Colrain Central School. The charter amendment spells out that Heath’s share of any capital improvements at Colrain Central School will be allotted in proportion to the ratio of Heath’s five-year enrollment average there. For instance, if 25% of the students over five years come from Heath, then Heath would pay 25% of capital costs. The new amendment language linking Heath to Colrain Central School is similar to that of the school-sharing agreements between Buckland and Shelburne, and between Plainfield and Ashfield.
Also among education-related articles, voters approved spending up to $278,400 to repave Colrain Central School’s parking area and sidewalks. Rode said the sidewalks pool water, which creates icy conditions in winter.
“There have been slips and concussions,” she said.
The approved operating budget for the town itself came to $1.5 million, representing a $78,564 hike over the current fiscal year’s budget. The largest town budget increase was a new “broadband note” line item for $69,444, to pay for the town’s broadband network. The loan has an 18-year repayment schedule.
Similarly, residents also voted to establish an Internet Technology Stabilization Fund, which would set aside money for future repairs to the town’s broadband infrastructure, should they be needed.
ElectionOf the town’s 567 registered voters, 176 (about 31%) came out on Friday to elect new officials and re-elect incumbents.
Incumbent Finance Committee member Alice Wozniak was re-elected by a 92-81 vote over her opponent, Gloria Cronin Fisher.
Wozniak also won an uncontested three-year term on the Board of Assessors.
In a contest for library trustee, Donald Freeman received 93 votes to Robert Gruen’s 78 ballots.
No one ran for a three-year seat on the School Committee currently held by Barbara Rode. Rode received 20 write-in votes, but she declined to accept a second term. At Saturday’s Annual Town Meeting, Rode thanked everyone who voted for her, but added, “I need a break.”
These unopposed candidates were elected to the following posts:
■Selectboard, three-year term — incumbent Robyn Provost-Carlson.
■Planning Board, five-year term — William Emmet.
■Municipal Light Board, three-year term — incumbent William Fontes.