The Massachusetts school-reform law meant to even disparities among wealthy and poor school districts may translate into less equity for one school district that had attempted to balance local wealth on its own.
Over the past 10 years, local officials in Williamstown and Lanesborough, two towns in the mountainous northwestern corner of the state, have used a modified version of the state's education allocations, which they concluded unfairly benefited Williamstown.
The reform law passed this year by the legislature after more than two years of debate, however, will now supersede the local plan. Local officials argue that the impact of the law may be to force Lanesborough officials to find $130,000 they had not budgeted.
Under the state's calculations for minimum local school contributions, Williamstown overpaid the Mt. Greylock Regional School District--a 7th- to 12th-grade district serving the two towns--by $133,000. That money, however, will not be refunded this year, school officials indicated.
But the $130,000 required from officials in Lanesborough is still due the school district.
"We've been fouled, and late in the game,'' contended one Lanesborough official.
"There are flaws in the law that will have to be worked out,'' said Martha Mellor, the business manager for the school district, which has already secured enough funding from the towns to balance its $4.5 million operating budget.
"It is not affecting us right now,'' she said.
The towns find themselves in this bind because they added a new factor to the school-aid formula. While the state apportioned its funds based on enrollment, the towns also considered equalized valuation per student.
As a result of that change, Lanesborough, which has lower property values, paid less than its state-calculated share, while Williamstown, an affluent community that serves as home to Williams College, paid more.
Under the reform legislation, however, the state removed the regional school-aid category that local officials had used to shift the funds. Moreover, it ordered that every locality pay at least its minimum share.
School officials said only Lanesborough leaders have a problem with the new system. They also noted that since the original agreement was hammered out, property values in Lanesborough have begun to catch up with those in Williamstown.--L.H.