By Beth David, Editor
The Fairhaven Selectboard and Fairhaven School Committee have agreed to explore the possibility of regionalizing some services in the school department. At the Selectboard meeting on Monday, 2/27, Superintendent of Schools Robert Baldwin, School Commitee chairperson Pamela Kuechler, and SC Vice Chair Brian Monroe, told the Selectboard that they were open to looking at ways the two school systems could cooperate.
A Town Meeting article will ask for a maximum of $20,000 for a study to explore the areas of possibility for regionalization. Dr. Baldwin said there are four possibilities that the district wants to study: Coordination and collaboration of the educational program between the two school districts; a Superintendency union between the two districts (shared superintendent); regionalization from grades 9–12 between the two districts; regionalization preK to 12 between the two districts.
Dr. Baldwin said that Fairhaven High School has become “Acushnet’s High School,” with 236 Acushnet residents attending this year.
“This is something that has been talked about for a long time,” said Selectboard member Bob Espindola.
He said the two towns and the districts already share a lot in the area of sports.
Other areas of possible regionalization could be Special Education (SpEd), collective bargaining, and transportation.
Dr. Baldwin said that, on the surface, it seemed to make sense. If Acushnet students are going to attend FHS, it would be better for both towns if the curriculum matched so all students entering ninth grade have similar academic backgrounds.
The “buzz” has been that this was coming, said Selectboard chairperson Charles Murphy, asking “why haven’t we done this already?”
“I’m all for it,” said Selectboard member Daniel Freitas, noting he was for the study to be done to see where it “leads us.”
Mr. Murphy noted that he still has a child in the system and a grandchild coming up soon.
“I have a strong interest in making our educational system the best it can be in our area,” said Mr. Murphy.
He said it will enhance the Acushnet students’ experience as well.
The first step is to hire a consultant, said Ms. Kuechler, and “go from there.”
Mr. Monroe said he wanted to be sure no one “misinterpreted” the support. He emphasized they were supporting a study, not regionalization itself.
“We’re not for or against it,” said Mr. Monroe. “We want to know our options.”
Acushnet will have a similar article on its town meeting warrant.
Dr. Baldwin and Town Administrator Mark Rees will work on the makeup of a committee that will include Acushnet officials.
In a related matter, the Selectboard and the School Department entered into an agreement to consolidate the Information Technology function of the municipal departments and the school department.
In another matter, the board voted to hold off on voting on whether or not to exercise the town’s Right of First Refusal on a parcel of land on New Boston Road. The Buzzards Bay Coalition has expressed an interest in the property. The town could assign its right to the coalition. Mr. Rees will work with the BBC to formalize how the arrangement would work. A large portion of the property is in Acushnet, complicating the deal.
The board also discussed the FY18 budget. They will hold a budget meeting on Monday, 3/6, to discuss it in detail.
Mr. Rees said he estimates total projected operating revenues to be about $47.2 million. General fund operating expenses come in just under that at about $45.9 million, and include a 3.25% increase in school spending, bringing that to just over $20 million. Add in town meeting articles and other extras and the total expenditure is about $47.9 million.
Changes include an additional $15,000 to the Highway Department budget for snow and ice removal specifically for clearing the bike path, so it can be used year round; and borrowing for a ladder truck.
Mr. Rees’s budget also recommends funding to the public works department to remove snow and ice from the sidewalks around the Oxford and Rogers Schools, and to restore leaf collection services.
Another change is to bring the Recreation Department into the General Fund instead of operating as an enterprise fund (a dedicated account with money generated from the department being used only in that department).
Mr. Rees also recommended town meeting articles to: Establish a Special Education Reserve Fund; grant matching funds for an update to the Harbor Master Plan; provide seed money for a revolving account to address abandoned structures; fund the public facilities improvement study.
“Budgets are dynamic by nature,” Mr. Rees told the board. “Very dynamic. Things change.”
He noted that he was alerted to a change in workers compensation costs that same day, but did not have the numbers yet.
In his budget presentation Mr. Rees tied his budget into the goals set by the Selectboard. To that end, he told the board that no one-time sources of revenue are being used to fund the operating budget. The budget also maintains recommended levels for the general stabilization fund and the capital stabilization fund.
Free cash expenditures will leave a 3.8% balance. The town’s certified free cash/surplus revenue as of July 2016, was $5,068,586. The budget uses $2,718,737 for capital expenditures (large items that are used for more than one year, such as vehicles and office equipment), $587,753 is used for other one-time expenses, leaving a balance of $1,762,096.
The CIP financing plan and Mr. Rees’s budget presentation are on the town’s website at http://www. fairhaven-ma.gov/ Find “Documents and Contracts” on the left and then FY18 Budget Documents.
Click here to download the entire 3/2/17 issue: 03-02-17 CoggeshallHouse_REV