WILBRAHAM – The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) will see a substantial increase over the expected amount of reimbursement for regional transportation costs.
State Sen. Eric Lesser told the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen at its July 27 meeting that in working with Superintendent of Schools M. Martin O’Shea, the district would receive repayment at a rate of 73 percent. The previously anticipated reimbursement rate was 64 percent.
The state is supposed to fully fund regional transportation and has not done so for the past several years. Currently, the HWRSD is facing an approximately $1 million shortfall in its fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget.
“We wanted it to be higher, but I think we have very good groundwork for next year and I do think talking to Superintendent O’Shea and others I think that’s going to make a real difference,” Lesser added. “The hope is that it will free up funds for other uses in the school system.”
Lesser said the Attorney General’s Office is examining the possibility of legal action to appropriately enforce the statute for fully funded regional transportation and make sure that other funds are used to balance the state budget before regional transportations are cut.
“[We’re] cautiously optimistic about that, but as legal proceedings go that’s a longer-term solution,” he added.
Lesser also said $1 million in funding for repairs to the East Street Bridge has been secured with the help of local legislatures. The bridge, which crossroads between the communities of Palmer, Wilbraham, and Ludlow, has been closed since March.
The project is now on next year’s list of scheduled state infrastructure projects, he added.
Lesser later told Reminder Publications he and other state officials, including state Rep. Thomas Petrolati, who represents Ludlow, made their case before Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack.
“We impressed upon her how important this route is as a connection to [Baystate Wing Hospital in Palmer],” he added. “It’s an important commuting route for people trying to get to and from work. There’s a seven mile detour to use an alternate, so there’s considerable hardship associated with the bridge closure.”
Selectman Robert Russell said during the past four years this was the first time that a member of the legislative delegation had met with the board, which he commended.
Russell also addressed his frustrated with the amount of unfunded state mandates.
“All these things that are thrown at us, that end up on our laps, we have to end up funding,” Russell said. “I think in your tenure, when you’re there, you’re there to fight for us.”
In other business, the board decided to table their vote endorsing the idea of a proposed Hampden County Regional Emergency Communications Center for the communities of Ludlow, Wilbraham, Hampden, Longmeadow, and East Longmeadow.
The board was notified by Administrative Assistant Candace Ouillette Gaumond that three individuals would need to be appointed to a joint five-town committee that would focus on the future of the project.