Your Finance Committee met on Feb. 22 to consider its recommendation for school regionalization, in anticipation of the March 6 Special Town Meeting where regionalization will be the only article on the warrant for the meeting. Fincom spent multiple hours in discussion with member of the Regionalization Planning Board at our meeting, and primarily focused on the financial considerations associated with regionalization. Following the discussions the Finance Committee voted four to one to recommend school regionalization to the town.
Many probing questions were asked during our discussions, but there were major points that we felt had to be satisfactorily answered for a positive recommendation to be voted.
Point 1 – Is school regionalization affordable?
YES. The economies of scale associated with combining the school districts of Ayer and Shirley will lead to direct savings that can enable regionalization to proceed without burdensome increases in initial cost, and with potential significant savings in the long run. For example, administrative costs per pupil, which has been a consistent complaint in Shirley, will be reduced significantly when regionalization is implemented.
Point 2 – Will Shirley retain control of the regional school district education budget?
YES. The regional agreement provides for equal representation of Shirley on the regional school committee that forms the budget. All regional school budgets must be approved and appropriated at the Shirley annual town meeting, just as they are today. If a budget is not initially approved by either town, then a procedure exists to resolve disagreements and revote until a budget is agreed upon. In addition, any major capital expenditures requiring overrides must be considered and approved by the Town, the same way they are currently considered.
Point 3 – Does regionalization improve the overall Town financial position?
YES. The single biggest drain on revenue for the Town of Shirley is the School choice-out assessment that is levied by the State for each child that chooses to attend an out-of-district public or charter school. That assessment is estimated at over $1.3 million in FY2010, and is estimated to be over $1.45 million in FY2011. Without regionalization this assessment is forecast to continue to increase, and with regionalization it is estimated that choice-out will be reduced to some extent immediately upon regionalization’s implementation, and should continue to decrease by about 10 percent per year after that. Choice-out is a long range problem that requires a long range solution, and regionalization is that solution. Regionalization will also free up the Lura A. White school as a property resource that could be used to generate additional revenue for the town, instead of requiring large expenditures to maintain and remodel it.
Point 4 – Can regionalization succeed?
YES. Success of any large and involved project always depends on the planning and effort that is applied to the implementation. The Regionalization Planning Board has created an excellent plan for an implementation that realistically projects affordability and improved educational opportunities. Implementation will require the conscientious collaboration of Shirley Town leadership to be successful. That is, the newly elected Shirley representatives to the regional school committee will have to work closely with our Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee to ensure that all our financial and educational objectives are considered responsibly. The end result will be a town unified in meeting the needs of all its citizens.
If you have questions concerning the upcoming Special Town Meeting or the information that we are providing please contact Frank Kolarik, Finance Committee Chairman, at email@example.com, or any other member of the Finance Committee whose contact information is provided on the Shirley Town Web site, www.shirley-ma.gov. Please attend the Special Town Meeting at 10 a.m. on March 6 to vote your preference in this important matter.
FRANK KOLARIK, CHAIRMAN
RICH DILL, VICE CHAIRMAN
BOBBI JO COLBURN, TOWN ACCOUNTANT
Shirley Finance Committee