D-Y School Committee Approves New Regional Agreement

SOUTH YARMOUTH – A new regional school agreement that would lessen the burden for Yarmouth and increase costs for Dennis was approved Monday by the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School Committee.

The new agreement, which was approved 6-1, would have Dennis cover 35 percent of the costs of the proposed new regional middle school and gradually increase the town’s share of operating costs over the next five years to a fixed 65-35 split.

“The two towns were trying to come to an agreement on that to present to the school committee. They were unable to do that,” said Jeni Landers, the school committee chair.

“The school committee at this time has decided to make changes to this agreement.”

The school committee has been working over the last few months on the new agreement to relieve the tension between the two communities.

Yarmouth Selectmen voted in January to sue the school district over the process used to win approval for the new middle school, which bypassed town meetings and passed by just 25 votes during a district-wide vote.

The legal action could jeopardize $44 million in state funding from the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

District school officials must sign a letter of commitment with the MSBA by April 11 to secure the funding. The letter of commitment cannot be completed if litigation or a threat of legal action remains.

Officials in Yarmouth said they would drop the lawsuit if a new regional agreement is approved by both towns this spring.

“We are hoping that by amending the regional agreement in this way at this time Yarmouth will drop their lawsuit and we will be able to receive $44 million in reimbursement from the state,” Landers said.

The new agreement approved by the school committee included some housekeeping, including the removal of outdated language, making some language gender neutral, and removing schools which no longer exist.

The major changes were made to how the communities share operating and capital costs.

Current operating costs are based on the number of students each town sends to district schools.

The new agreement would use the foundation formula, which counts all students for whom the district is financially responsible, including charter and school choice students. The formula does not include private or parochial school students.

Landers said the school committee is optimistic on that change.

“That was something that we feel that there was agreement on from both towns during the negotiating process that foundation enrollment would be used for a lot of the calculations,” Landers said.

When the current agreement was approved 20 years ago charter and school choice did not exist.

“The per student cost was based on actual students in seats, which made sense at the time,” Landers said. “But obviously now Dennis needs to pay for all of its kids and Yarmouth needs to pay for all of its kids no whatever district they go to.”

Landers said it seems like a common sense change.

The operation costs changes would also gradually increase Dennis’ share over the next five years. The proposed split for the 2019-2020 school year would be 68 percent for Yarmouth and 32 percent for Dennis.

The Dennis share would then increase by 1 percent each year until 2024 until the split is fixed at 65-35. The percentage would hold in the third year to provide relief for Dennis.

The new agreement would also divide capital costs, such as new schools, at 65 percent for Yarmouth and 35 percent for Dennis.

The change would increase costs for Dennis as the current agreement is based on enrollment.

If the new school is not built the agreement also states that each town would be responsible for 100 percent of the renovation costs for the school in their town. The renovations would be required for the Mattacheese Middle School in West Yarmouth and the Nathaniel H. Wixon School in South Dennis.

The new agreement would need to be approved by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and town meeting voters in both towns.

“We need voters to get behind this new regional agreement and our budget for this year,” Landers said. “Those have to pass at both town meetings or we are back to drawing board on a lot of this and we wasted a lot of time and money.”

School Committee Member Brian Carey said he feels confident in the work done on crafting the new agreement.

“I think if everybody sits down, takes a step back and looks at the regional agreement and what both towns bring to each other then that is where we will find common ground,” Carey said.

Landers said the new agreement has received some push back from the Dennis Finance Committee chair James Plath.

“We are talking to representatives in both towns and trying to explain the logic behind the changes and also explain the very complicated aspects of our budget,” Landers said.

“Hopefully, everybody can get behind this and we can just move forward.”

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