Pentucket Regional Schools Cut Spending, Increase Fees; Both Sides Blame State Ed Formula

The Performing Arts Center, seen during construction, is considered a jewel of the new Pentucket Regional Middle/High School. (Courtesy photograph.)

The Pentucket Regional School Committee this week approved spending cuts and fee increases after two of its three member towns rejected a Proposition 2 ½ override.

Groveland and Merrimac voters last week defeated what was called an “operational budget override” to pay for the district’s proposed $50 million spending plan. West Newbury had budgeted for the proposed increase. Both proponent Pentucket Regional School Superintendent Justin Bartholomew and override opponent, former Groveland Selectman Joseph R. D’Amore, agree on one thing—the state deserves the blame. They appeared in back-to-back, live interviews over 97.9 WHAV Wednesday morning.

Bartholomew explained the School Committee had to cover a $1.34 million dollar gap caused, in part, by a significant decrease in state funding. He cited an example.

“They did not give us $144,000 for regional transportation. They are supposed to fully fund it. So, in the summary, they are giving us less money for this fiscal year, in a year when we know costs have gone up. Inflation is incredibly high so we are actually getting less money and immediately, by default, puts the burden onto the homeowners in the three towns, and it’s wrong. It’s just flat out wrong,” he said.

D’Amore, who is also a former Pentucket Regional School Committee member, said the benefits of regionalization have dropped.

“When we were encouraged to regionalize, our three towns, West Newbury, Groveland and Merrimac, the funding was more robust and higher than it is today. We have seen a steady decrease. The superintendent will probably share with you some really frightening decreases, especially in the area of transportation. We have to bus our kids and it gets expensive, and the state, quite frankly, is stingy about that,” he agreed.

After Tuesday night’s cuts, the Pentucket Regional School spending for the year beginning July 1 totals $47,846,000.

Other actions taken to balance the budget include reducing general expenses by $528,364, in part by reducing the number of special education teachers from six to four positions, and not hiring a human resources manager. The district will increase fees by $325,950 and eliminate one bus route, and making $485,686 in staff reductions.

D’Amore old WHAV listeners the state needs to change the funding formula, and he has a plan.

“What I’m proposing is going to be one heck of a fight. We’re asking for a significant fundamental change, and the amounts of money we get by formula that will impact the whole Commonwealth. So, it’s a big project and it’s a lofty one but we’ve got to try. Otherwise, we are going to slip down this slippery road that we are in now, with people fighting with one another—yes, no votes, overrides, no overrides. We need more money. The towns are indicating we can’t pay more money, and it’s a big mess.”

D’Amore said he would like to form a study group and redraft the state education formula, then bring it to local state representative and senator and ask them to draft legislation that can be filed, and acted at the State House and hopefully be signed by the governor.

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