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May 1, 2014

State aid eyed to offset Essex Tech assessments

A state “pothole” fund is being eyed to spare North Shore cities and towns some of the higher costs they’ve been assessed with for the new regional vocational school set to open this fall in Danvers.

There was an outcry from mayors and town leaders in recent weeks at possible steep increases in assessments for each community, based on preliminary budget figures for fiscal 2015 for the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School.

State Rep. Ted Speliotis, D-Danvers, said his colleagues in the House agreed to support a budget amendment or technical fix he proposed Monday night to allocate no less than $704,319 to help offset costs related to the merger of Essex Aggie, North Shore Tech and vocational programs at Peabody High.

Speliotis said part of the uptick in assessments was due to the enrollment figures state education officials used to determine general education or Chapter 70 aid for the new school. Those figures were inaccurate and equated about $704,000 in added costs for the 17 member communities in the regional school district.

The biggest issue, he said, was 52 students still attributed to Peabody even though those students wouldn’t attend the new school. Projected enrollments from October apportioned 211 seats for Peabody students, but as of April 2 only 159 students had enrolled.

Essex North Shore Superintendent Dan O’Connell said October estimates are traditionally used in Chapter 70 calculations, but he had secured an agreement with the state to use the actual April numbers. For some reason though, he said, there was a miscalculation and the state credited the school with far fewer students than the 815 who are enrolled.

According to data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, that number was 650.

The one-time “pothole” funds, a line item in the state education budget, can be drawn upon in cases of unusual or extraordinary circumstances, Speliotis said, explaining that Chapter 70 aid couldn’t simply be recalculated now due to the Legislature’s earlier vote not to revisit the resolution on Chapter 70.

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