Every year the towns of Northborough and Southborough use some advanced math to figure out how much of the regional school budget each town will pay. This year those calculations might see Southborough ponying up an additional $200K — an unexpected increase that is raising some eyebrows.
Here’s the situation. There are two different ways to calculate each town’s assessment. One method is based on the regional agreement that has been in place between the towns for nearly 50 years. The other uses a formula described in state statute. The towns have almost always used the regional agreement, but for reasons that are unclear, the state statute formula was used the last two years. Normally, there isn’t much difference between the two methods, but this year all that changed.
“An unfair situation”
The state decided Northborough had been overpaying and Southborough underpaying by its calculations, so it adjusted the formula. The result was not good for Southborough.
If you use the regional agreement to calculate the assessments, Southborough would pay $5.2M of the $17M regional budget. That’s a 6% increase over this year. But if you calculate the assessments using the formula in the state statue, Southborough would pay $5.4M, a more than 10% increase over this year.
And while Southborough would get a 10% increase, Northborough would see only a 1% increase using the state statute because the formula factors in socioeconomic, or “ability to pay,” considerations which benefit Northborough.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Bill Boland said the steep increase “creates an unfair situation in Southborough.”
Each town approves its share of the regional budget, and the assessment methodology used to calculate it, at their respective town meeting. But here’s were things get sticky: the towns don’t have to approve the same method.
So it’s not unrealistic to envision a scenario wherein Southborough does what the Advisory Committee recommends and approves a budget using the regional agreement because it’s $200K less than the alternative, and Northborough approves a budget using the formula in the state statute because its the lower of the two for that town. Each town serves its own individual interests and the result is the regional school budget is short by a couple hundred thousand. What then?
According to the discussion at last week’s Board of Selectmen meeting, if the towns vote for different budgets, the school district can either absorb the shortfall, or the towns can hold a joint town meeting to select a new budget. In all the years we’ve been a regional school district, we’ve never had to hold a joint town meeting.
This one could get interesting.