Sheffield: School funding shift OK'd

Tuesday, May 05
SHEFFIELD — After considerable discussion, voters on Monday passed a pair of articles that, in theory, pave the way for a compromise solution to the school district's assessment problems.

A total of 238 of the town's 2,299 registered voters, or 10.3 percent, participated in the annual town meeting.

Voters first approved, by a count of 127-102, an amendment of the agreement between the five towns of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District, calling for the five towns to be assessed by a 50-50 method that incorporates the state assessment formula and a district formula arrived at in 2001 based mainly on per-pupil costs.

This compromise amendment was the product of extended meetings between the selectmen of Alford, Egremont, New Marlborough, Monterey and Sheffield. The compromise method was endorsed by the Southern Berkshire Regional School District and opposed by the Finance Committee. The Selectmen did not take an official stance. All five district towns must approve the amendment.

Selectwoman Julie Hannum conceded that the compromise was not ideal. Under this assessment, Sheffield would be asked to pay a total of $5,451,605, which was about $128,000 more than the town would have been asked to pay under the statutory method, which Sheffield had used for the past two years.

In addition, if all five towns approve this compromise method, New Marlborough town officials have agreed to drop the lawsuit against the district, which they initiated because they believed their assessments were too high.

"Compromise is where everyone comes away from the table a little dissatisfied," she said. "And I admit I felt that way. But this is a decision bigger than money."

"You have to decide if this compromise is worth it," said School Committee member H. Dennis Sears.

Former School Committee member Mark Bacchetti did not think so.

"There is no benefit to the town here," he said. "I don't think we should pay New Marlborough to cooperate."

He added that he believed the lawsuit was "frivolous," and shrugged off the possibility that the state Department of Education could have to take over the district again if the towns cannot agree on an assessment method.

"So what? We got through it (last time)," he said.

After that vote, residents then approved the $5,451,605, which was calculated by the so-called "50-50" formula. This is contingent on the passage of a $177,000 override of Proposition 2 1/2 at the May 11 town elections. The higher school budget triggered about $128,000 of that, according to Hannum.

Residents also voted to approve the town's general government article, which was virtually level-funded from this year, and to fix the salaries of town officials.


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