HOPKINTON — Members of the Hopkinton Town Council agreed at their Monday meeting to contact officials in Richmond and Charlestown to set up a meeting to discuss the Chariho Act.
Passed by the state legislature in 1958, the Chariho Act created the Chariho Regional School District, which comprises Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton.
One of the provisions of the act requires that a town’s share of the Chariho budget be based on its enrollment in the school district. A second provision states that all three towns must agree to opening the act should amendments to the statute be proposed.
Hopkinton and Richmond have complained that the enrollment provision is unfair, because even small changes in student numbers can dramatically reduce or increase a town’s contribution, and without agreement from all three towns, a single town is powerless to enact amendments.
This year, Hopkinton, with the greatest rise in enrollment, is facing a $600,000 increase in its share of the schools budget, which combined with a $97,000 decrease in state aid, will result in a $0.80 property tax increase, to $20.87 per $1,000 valuation in the town’s 2020 budget.
Richmond’s increase is slightly lower and Charlestown, which had a decrease in enrollment, will see its contribution to the district significantly reduced.
Councilor Sharon Davis said she had contacted the other regional school districts to ask how their member towns calculate their contributions, but was told that they do it the same way as Chariho.
“They’re doing it by the school enrollment,” she said.
Councilor Barbara Capalbo brought up a proposal, suggested months ago by a member of the Richmond Town Council, that towns’ enrollments be calculated over five years, which would help smooth out enrollment spikes from year to year.
“I think we can certainly move forward on that and that might help us quite a bit,” she said.
Town Council President Frank Landolfi said he was determined to explore a new funding formula.
“This funding mechanism that’s built into the Chariho Act isn’t quite working,” he said. “It’s just not sustainable, and whether it’s a three-year, five-year rolling average, something has to be done. So I’m interested in opening up the Act to get a more equitable funding mechanism.”
Landolfi also expressed frustration with the School Committee’s response at a recent meeting to his request for further Chariho budget cuts.
“We pleaded, and I think Sharon and Barbara also at that meeting, and our School Committee sat on their hands. I asked them for $127,000 in cuts and not one of them made any suggested cuts, except for the chairperson, who lives in Richmond, made a cut from 7 to 6 percent on their health care and it saved us about $55,000,” he said, referring to committee chairman Ryan Callahan.
Councilor Sylvia Thompson suggested that the town first do some research on enrollment trends before agreeing to a meeting.
“It’s a Richmond-Hopkinton problem, it’s not a Charlestown problem, but maybe there is a way to average it out based upon the past and maybe there’s language in here that allows a town to participate, and that way Richmond and Hopkinton could participate and Charlestown could say ‘we don’t need to,’” she said. “The best thing to do is get your homework done, then have a meeting.”
Council members also vowed to resist attempts to eliminate one of the town’s two elementary schools.
“At the last meeting, one of the Richmond councilors said ‘Oh we are just at the wall,’” Capalbo said. “You are not … it is incorrect to say our schools are bursting at the seams. None of the elementary schools are, not any longer. We have two schools for 400 students and Richmond has one school for 360. It’s the same amount of space.”
Landolfi said he would set up a meeting with Richmond and Charlestown officials.
“I guess it’s important not only to have Richmond there but also Charlestown. Even though they might not support a lot of the changes, we certainly do need their support to open up the act,” he said.