HUNTINGTON – On Wednesday the Gateway Regional School Committee held its last meeting until August 23. The main business of the night was reorganization of the committee, which proved to be a misnomer as the majority of positions were reelected, including Michele Crane of Blandford as chairperson, and Martha Otterbeck of Chester as vice chair.
Gateway administrative assistant Stacy Stewart will continue to serve as secretary of the committee, and Deborah Kuhn as district treasurer. Also reelected was the Dupere Law Office as counsel and negotiator for the committee.
New School Committee member Aaron Welch of Huntington was tapped for the Superintendent’s Evaluation, Policy and Warrant Signing committees, joining returning members. Lyndsey Papillon of Russell will serve for a second year as the legislative contact. Both also volunteered to attend the MASC conference in the fall.
Crane pointed out that a lot of the new and recent members of the School Committee are parents with young children in the district, including Welch and Papillon. Another new member in that category is Melissa Nazzarro of Huntington, who was appointed and sworn in earlier at the Select Board meeting for a one-year term. Nazzarro, who previously served as the town’s emergency manager was not able to attend the School Committee meeting on Wednesday.
The School Committee goals for the upcoming year were sent out to the members by Superintendent Dr. David B. Hopson for review, before voting at the next meeting. Tara Balboni of Russell noted that last year the committee had a session specifically on goal setting, and asked if they would again.
Crane said one hadn’t been planned. She said she has added as a high priority goal, increasing communication with the towns. “I made sure that was added in there,” she said.
Otterbeck said a whole session might not be needed, but perhaps a quarterly review of the goals might be worthwhile. Shirley Winer of Chester said the hardest goal will be communication with the towns. She said she agreed with statements recently that budget information on the website is not easy to locate. “It’s not intuitive,” Winer said.
Crane said she will look at the schedule and put in time for goal discussions. She encouraged School Committee members to also ask her if there were topics they would like to discuss.
A joint budget meeting with the towns has already been scheduled for Wednesday, September 13 with the goal of increasing involvement in FY19 budget planning. Another facilitated meeting to take place in an outside venue is also being discussed. Hopson sent out a letter to the towns offering to have the district share the costs of a facilitator.
Meanwhile, the FY18 budget that was voted for at the last School Committee meeting will now go to the towns for another vote at special town meetings. Version 2 of the FY18 budget, which has a bottom line of $16,089,814, includes $105,908 in reductions to the towns. Only Huntington, Chester and Russell, the three towns that rejected the budget will need to meet and vote again.
Gateway business manager Stephanie Fisk reported that the letters reflecting the new assessments in Version 2 have gone out to the towns, along with an explanation that they will be receiving a second letter from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with 1/12th assessments based on the FY17 budget, until a new budget is passed.
Also discussed at the meeting on Wednesday are the ads for school choice that the district recently placed in local papers. Ron Damon of Huntington asked for a rough estimate of the cost of the ads, which Fisk said was “a couple of thousand.” Damon suggested re-advertising in August.
Balboni said there are parents in Westfield upset about the redistricting, and in Granville upset about their school closure who might consider sending their children to Gateway Regional. Two students from Granville have already signed up for Gateway this fall.
Welch asked if students from Westfield would be responsible for their own transportation. Hopson said school choice students are responsible for transportation. Others said that accommodations have been made if students can get to the closest bus stop on the Gateway route.