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HAMPDEN — Superintendent John Provost announced at the April 25 Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee meeting that the town of Wilbraham intends to publish a different budget total on its Town Meeting warrant than the number approved by the School Committee.

The Wilbraham Town Meeting warrant will instead reflect the budget number approved by the Wilbraham Finance Committee, while the number set by HWRSD at its March 21 meeting will be included in the description below the warrant article, Provost said.

He explained that the district was made aware of this decision through a letter received from its attorney.
During its March 21 meeting, the Wilbraham Finance Committee approved a HWRSD operating budget that removed $81,203 from the proposed budget; a number that was intended to reflect the increased funds designated for student vocational training, according to member Patrick Kiernan who made this motion.

In the discussion, Kiernan highlighted the discrepancy between the costs of vocational schools’ tuitions as well as the programs’ minimal enrollment numbers as to why the increase should not be included in the final budget.

According to town records, the Finance Committee’s vote to amend the HWRSD budget and approval of the modified version occurred less than an hour before the School Committee convened to vote on its finalized budget.

These additional funds for vocational training were designed to allow ninth grade students to attend Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative, as discussed at the School Committee’s March 21 meeting. In addition to addressing the community request for greater access to vocational training, this action would be the only option for students looking to attend LPVEC because the organization has opted to no longer accept 10th grade students, Provost said at the meeting.

On April 22, Town Administrator Nick Breault confirmed at the Wilbraham Select Board meeting that the Finance Committee’s number would be the budget total listed in the town warrant. He stated that the individual school budget line item could be pulled from the full town budget at Town Meeting to discuss further or amend without disrupting the other items of the town budget.

When asked about the origin of the differing budget totals at the April 25 School Committee meeting, Provost stated that it was still unclear.

“[We] don’t know what happened,” he explained. “Assessment letters went out [to each town] and then we received an email saying the number [on the Wilbraham Town Meeting warrant] is not going to be the number that’s reflected in the assessment letter.”

Aaron Osborne, assistant superintendent for finance, operations and human resources, later clarified that an approval of the Wilbraham Finance Committee’s budget number at Town Meeting would result in the failure of the HWRSD budget. A special Town Meeting would then be required if HWRSD wanted to pursue the approval of the district’s budget number, he said.

Per the regional agreement, the reduced portion of the HWRSD budget would be divided as $67,000 for Wilbraham and $15,000 for Hampden, Osborne stated. He confirmed that an approval of a lowered Wilbraham assessment would result in a lower assessment for Hampden as well.

School Committee member Sean Kennedy also highlighted that the Wilbraham Finance Committee’s decision to approve a different budget number did not follow the typical actions taken by the committee.
“The town does not have to support our assessment. They do not have to. They can say they agree with it or disagree with it, but this is a new thing where they’re writing their own budget and they’re saying this is the number that they’re putting forward,” he stated.

Hampden Advisory Committee did support its assessment from the HWRSD budget, Kennedy said.
Moving forward, the School Committee agreed to reach out to the HWRSD legal representation, attorney Sean Sweeney, and Wilbraham Town Clerk Carole Tardif, about how to proceed with the budget discrepancies. Provost will also contact Sweeney about whether the issue should be discussed in open or executive session, he said.

The Hampden Town Meeting is scheduled for May 13 while Wilbraham’s Town Meeting will be on June 3.

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