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Cheshire, Conflicted About Closure Of Elementary School, To Vote On Budget

A map of Massachusetts with Chesire's location in the North West corner highlighted
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Residents of Cheshire, Massachusetts will vote tonight on a $5.9 million budget for next year. The hot button issue is the proposed closure of Cheshire Elementary School.

The annual town meeting gets under way at 7.

An emergency amendment to the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District agreement would allow Cheshire to pay additional costs to keep the Cheshire Elementary School open without Adams seeing any increase. 

Adams and the state Department of Education would also need to approve the agreement.

Cheshire Elementary would be funded by other proposals that need approval: $150,000 from free cash and $150,000 from the Stabilization Fund, among others.

Cheshire Town Clerk Christine Emerson says there are roughly 2,400 registered voters, and meetings usually have a low turnout. But…

“If there is a hot button item, we might get up to 175, 180,” Emerson says. “However, I am hearing that we we’re probably be around 200 this evening.”

Paul Butler, chair of the Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee, says the school budget process has become more difficult every year.

“The state funding formula for – state funding, I should say Chapter 70 state funding – has remained essentially flat for at least a decade,” Butler says.

Butler says that puts the onus on Adams and Cheshire taxpayers.

“Over time, it just becomes more and more difficult for the towns to absorb those kind of increases,” Butler says.

As a result, Butler says, the school district has seen a loss of programs and cuts in teaching staff – and due to school choice, a decline in public school enrollment.

“Over $900,000 out of our budget every year,” Butler says.

The Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee voted in March to close Cheshire Elementary School next year.

C.T. Plunkett Elementary in Adams will house prekindergarten through third grade, and is expected to hold about 425 students.

The school committee is made up of four Adams representatives and three from Cheshire – all of whom dissented. 

“It unfortunately came down along town lines that – that the vote was 4-3 –                                               Plunkett would be the surviving school and that Cheshire would close,” Butler says.

Some Cheshire residents demanded a redo.

Now, Cheshire residents must decide whether to accept that plan.

Butler, who is from the town of Adams, says that it would do more harm than good if the residents do not approve the article.

“I represent every student that goes to that school, regardless of what town they are from,” Butler says.

The Cheshire Select Board fears rumors of the community stonewalling the use of free cash – believing the money should be put toward the school. That would cut at least $110,000 from the budget. 

If the school budget is voted down, it would go back to the school committee to refile with revisions, if needed. If it is shot down a second time, the entire district will vote together, and majority rules. After that, if there is still no conclusion, the state gets involved.

Adams residents vote on their budget next week.

Emerson, the Cheshire Town Clerk, says the plan is to appropriate $170,000 from free cash to reduce the tax rate.

“So they usually use a portion of that to reduce the tax rate for the town,” Emerson says. “The other is usually if there is a vehicle or an expense for the town, say, something that needs to be repaired that is over and above the special town repair line item, it would be paid for with free cash.”

Residents will also vote on whether to use $14,000 from free cash to purchase and install an emergency power generator for the Cheshire Fire Department. Another $60,000 from free cash will be voted on to fund the town's share of the state Department of Housing and Community Development Housing Rehabilitation grant, which will allow residents to make improvements to their homes.

The meeting starts at 7. 

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