Montague Selectboard talks need for school funding, infrastructure upgrades with Rep. Blais

NATALIE BLAIS

NATALIE BLAIS

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 04-05-2024 1:39 PM

MONTAGUE — Increased school funding, road and bridge repairs, and wastewater system upgrades were on the minds of Selectboard members as they met with Rep. Natalie Blais this week.

Blais, D-Deerfield, met with the board as part of her annual tour of the communities in the 1st Franklin District she represents. At Monday’s meeting, the conversation opened with improving roads and bridges and the state support required for this effort.

“We have a lot of projects, just like every town,” noted Selectboard Chair Rich Kuklewicz.

Blais told the board she recently hosted state Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt and took her on a bus ride to view the dirt roads and bridges in her district.

“She gets small communities,” Blais said. “We’re very lucky she took the time to come out here and get out with us onto our roadways to see the sorts of challenges our communities are facing.”

School funding for rural districts has been an ongoing issue, with only a fraction of state aid going to these towns with smaller populations. Blais said that of the Massachusetts school districts, 212 receive the minimum aid amount due to declining enrollment. The representative added that she and other legislators have worked to increase funding for rural districts.

One recommendation that Blais has made is changing the formula for Chapter 70 state aid for schools.

“Given all the challenges that so many schools are facing across the commonwealth, it feels like it might be time to do that,” Blais said.

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Kuklewicz said Montague has been working to draw in new students. In January, the Six Town Regionalization Planning Board voted to draft a regional agreement that would combine the Gill-Montague and Pioneer Valley regional school districts.

“It’s just not sustainable to have such small populations and provide what is needed,” Kuklewicz said.

Upgrading the town’s wastewater facilities was also brought up. In Montague, Kuklewicz said there are sections of the Clean Water Facility where people need to wear hard hats due to the risk of pieces that may fall.

“We will have multi-million-dollar building projects,” he said. “Not one million, we’re talking tens of millions.”

Town Administrator Steve Ellis commented on how the town spends so much on studies and then needs to tie up more money to get grants, since many require the applicant to match the amount. This means that other potential projects are put on hold for money that may not even come in. Assistant Town Administrator Walter Ramsey added that the town is looking for new ways to manage sludge disposal, as space is becoming an issue.

“If we run out of places to put stuff, then everyone is stuck. What do we do?” Ellis asked Blais. “We talked about this six years ago.”

Max Bowen can be reached at mbowen@recorder.com or 413-930-4074.