District meeting to weigh NRSD budget

  • Phillipston Memorial School in Phillipston. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/17/2020 5:52:21 PM
Modified: 9/17/2020 5:52:11 PM

TEMPLETON — Voters from Phillipston and Templeton will gather on the athletic field at Narragansett Regional High School this Saturday with the hope of settling on a FY21 budget for the school district.

The School Committee is recommending passage of a $19.7 million budget for the district. Voters at Templeton’s annual town meeting approved the $6.9 million assessment suggested as its portion of the spending package. Phillipston voters, however — both at their Annual Town Meeting and a subsequent Special Town Meeting — refused to fund its $1.6 million assessment; opting instead to approve spending an even $1 million. The million-dollar figure is some $200,000 short of what the state had set as Phillipston’s total for net minimum spending.

Phillipston Selectboard member Gerhard Fandreyer, who has been critical of the School Committee budget and the closure of Phillipston Memorial Elementary School, said he hopes voters of the two towns will agree to a budget reflective of Phillipston’s million-dollar contribution.

“By their figuring,” he said, “they have saved a million dollars by emptying and idling Phillipston Memorial Elementary School. We’re hoping that the number, as voted, ends up being $19,083,682.”

At three district meetings held last year to hammer out a budget, Templeton voters managed to force passage of a smaller budget than that recommended by the School Committee. Phillipston voted to approve a Proposition 2½ override to fund the suggested budget, but Templeton did not. Fandreyer said he’s hopeful that this time around, Templeton voters will agree with their counterparts from Phillipston.

“Remember now,” he said, “Templeton voted that they didn’t want Phillipston kids in their new (Templeton Center) elementary school, because we’re not paying any part of their mortgage. Templeton people don’t want us in that school — and we don’t want to be there.”

Fandreyer also argues that moving Phillipston children to Templeton Center Elementary School flies in the face of public health recommendations regarding social distancing.

Phillipston Selectboard member Kim Pratt is taking a different approach.

“Obviously,” she said, “we have to vote for a budget. We don’t have a choice, since we couldn’t get down at the town meeting.

“I’ve supported the full assessment from the beginning because I think the schools need the money. I’m hoping it will all be taken care of in one districtwide meeting. I don’t hear anything new and I understand why people are upset, but we have to move forward.”

She said much of the problem can be laid at the feet of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“A lot of the complaint isn’t necessarily with Templeton, which has a majority on the School Committee, it’s with the state — it’s the minimum contribution. People can argue that, but the state has come up with its formula, and we have to start talking to our representatives and senators and making some noise there, I guess.”

Pratt is urging as many Phillipston voters as possible to make it to this Saturday’s meeting, noting that the larger budget they supported last year was ultimately defeated by fewer than a half-dozen votes.

Templeton Town Administrator Carter Terenzini said that, like last year, more than one district meeting could be necessary if agreement can’t be reached this Saturday.

“The district meeting on the 19th is to adopt a budget,” Terenzini explained. “It will follow the pattern of last year if it’s not the budget the School Committee puts forward.

“The School Committee then has two choices: Does it accept the number that’s adopted at the meeting on Saturday, or does it recertify its original number and have another district meeting?”

Terenzini said it’s too bad budget considerations have developed into a competition between towns that have been tied together in a regional school district since 1955.

“I think it is always unfortunate,” he said, “when partners view a set of facts differently; but we’re different communities with different things that are of import to it.

“Last year, the issue was money. This year, the issue is the loss of a small, stand-alone community fixture. It’s important to Phillipston. I get it, I understand it. I understand what their concerns are.”

Saturday’s district meeting gets under way at 2 p.m. In the event of inclement weather, it will be moved to the Narragansett High School gymnasium.

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