Rowley Says “No” to Triton Budget

Tuesday May 09, 2023

Triton High School

ROWLEY — In recent years, it has been the town of Salisbury that has been required to pay more of the Triton Regional School District budget, while the towns of Newbury and Rowley got off a bit easier.
That changed this year. For fiscal year 2024, it is Rowley, which is being assessed about half of the school’s budget or $12.6 million.
By the narrow margin of four votes, the Rowley Annual Town Meeting said no. It docked the district by 4 percent or $502,568 of the proposed assessment.
Dennis Roy, a member of the Finance Committee, said, “The finance committee fully understands the ramifications of this recommendation. But it must begin to send a message to Triton that with a declining school population and dramatic increases each year in assessments, the town of Rowley cannot accept these out-of-control, spiraling annual increases.”
But if the town of Salisbury on Monday night votes with the town of Newbury to accept the Triton budget, Rowley has no choice, but to accept the proposed assessment.
In the regional school district system, two of the three towns can overrule an unhappy town.
Triton superintendent Brian Forget said he is “disheartened” that the vote went the way it did. “I get it. I understand the challenges.” In the future, he said he hopes the state will develop a different assessment formula, which he called “a bad formula.” No one likes the formula, he said.
In future years, Rowley may not be the town that takes the hit, he said.
“This year, Rowley is paying about 50 percent of the total increase because the state’s formula sees the town as wealthier, as well as the fact that the town of Rowley increased by 34 students, Newbury went down 10 students, and Salisbury went down four students.”
Nerissa Wallen — one of Rowley’s three representatives on the Triton school committee — agreed that Rowley’s assessment from Triton “is a high number.”
She blamed the state’s Chapter 70 formula, which “the district has no control over.” Chapter 70 establishes the minimum spending requirements that each town in a school district must meet based on factors that include enrollment numbers.
Another factor is “the municipal revenue growth factor,” a formula which, she said, calculates that the town can afford to pay more toward the Triton budget “because expensive homes are being built in Rowley,” and the town’s tax base will increase by the value of those homes.
Forget said he is not happy with the increases in spending, but denied an accusation that the district was adding 12 new staff members. He said the budget calls for 3.5 new staff members, which are critical to operations, he said.
He also said the budget has leveled the purchase of supplies, which worries him, given the increase in inflation of all items the school buys.
Wallen offered an amendment to accept the full assessed amount of $12.6 million for Triton, but her amendment was defeated by four votes.
Now all eyes are on Salisbury.
Should the town vote down the proposed assessment, the district will have to rewrite its budget and present it again to the three towns.

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