Gateway budget stays status quo for now

HUNTINGTON – The special Gateway Regional School Committee meeting planned for Wednesday evening to vote on a new budget was cancelled, due to five members of the school committee being unable to attend. This would have left eight members in attendance, short of the ten required for a vote.
When the special meeting was scheduled at the last regular School Committee meeting on July 8, Dr. David Hopson, Gateway superintendent had said it would require a two-thirds vote from the committee for passage of a new budget.
“Failure to have the committee take action on a new budget means the old budget,” Hopson had told the committee.
The School Committee already had the option of voting in the same budget that was rejected by voters at four of the six Annual Town Meetings, a reduced budget, or an increased budget. Since no vote was taken, the current or “old” budget Version 1 will be resubmitted to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) by the July 28 deadline. This is the same budget on which Gateway is currently operating at a 1/12th or monthly basis as determined by DESE until a budget is voted positively by the towns.
If the mitigation funds of $630,000 that were promised by legislators to the Gateway district to help defray the costs of Worthington’s withdrawal come through, town assessments will be lowered by that amount. Since Huntington and Blandford voted for a budget that reflected the lowered town assessments after mitigation funds are received, those towns will not have to call a special town meeting to pass a new budget. Both Middlefield and Montgomery passed Gateway budget Version 1, while Chester and Russell voted it down. A majority of four of the six towns in the newly-configured Gateway district is now needed to pass a budget.
Recently, Blandford’s Board of Selectmen stated that the current budget even with the lowered assessment from mitigation funds would still be too high at a 9 percent increase.
“That by itself still requires some additional cutting or an override,” Selectman Andy Montanaro said. “If we’re going to see increases of this magnitude, it’s just not sustainable. We can’t do it.”
The town had announced publicly that it was freezing cost-of-living increases for town employees due to the current town assessment.
Hopson responded to the selectmen at their regular meeting on Tuesday in Blandford, and also in his column, “The Superintendent’s Corner.” Hopson, a Blandford resident, took issue with some of the statements in the announcement, including investigating alternative options for educating the children in Blandford.
In his column, Hopson stated, “While I can certainly support looking at alternatives, and have publically stated that in the past, (and) the fact that the school committee is starting a “Gateway 2025” process to provide a ‘roadmap’ for the future of the district, I wonder about the speed in which the Blandford Selectboard seems to be moving forward, especially without any definitive vote by a town meeting and where this year’s annual town meeting overwhelmingly authorized a school assessment amount above that recommended by the Finance Committee and Selectboard. To a casual observer of town politics, this looks like a disconnect between the will of the town and those officials elected to serve the will of the majority.”
At the meeting in Blandford, Hopson presented a written response to the Selectboard’s statements, that he wrote along the two School Committee members from Blandford, Chair Michele Crane and Terri Garfield. He is waiting for a response.
Hopson is also waiting for the definitive word on the mitigation funds, which legislators are still saying will come. “I’m as confident as I can be. Leading politicians have said it’s a done deal. Until I see a signed version of it in the budget, I can’t really relax. I don’t even know if it’s reached the House and Senate yet,” he said.

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