Category Archives: Press Coverage

Sentinel & Enterprise: Second override vote ahead for town

By Amanda Burke

ASHBURNHAM — Just over a week after voters narrowly rejected a measure to increase schools funding through a permanent property tax increase, the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday greenlit a Special Town Meeting where voters will decide whether or not to hold a second override vote.

The Special Town Meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 18 in the auditorium of Oakmont Regional High School, said Town Clerk Michelle Johnson.

Voters will consider a single warrant item: To see if the town will vote to raise an additional $475,656 for the Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District’s fiscal 2018 operating budget.

Ashburnham’s share of the override amount is $153,886 less than what was voted on June 20, when 687 people rejected (and 663 approved) a Proposition 2 1/2 override that in would have generated $629,542 in annual tax revenue to fund Ash-West schools.

“I’m glad to see that the number is down,” said Selectmen Chair Leo Janssens, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting. “I think it makes it more acceptable to voters.”

Ash-West Superintendent Gary Mazzola said at a special School Committee meeting on Tuesday that $250,000 in heat and health insurance savings was identified in the fiscal 2018 budget.

That savings, along with a new estimate on how much funding the district can expect to receive from the state, up more than $73,000 than originally expected, helped knock down the total amount of the override from $1,221,212 to $897,582, which would be split, not necessarily equally, between the two towns.

Westminster does not need to hold another override vote because residents approved the measure last Tuesday.

If the override passes in Ashburnham on second try, the regional school district would have funding for a “prioritized services” budget, which the School Committee recertified Tuesday.

That $29,739,424 budget aims to restore some of the personnel and services cut in pervious years, including more than 10 teaching positions across various grade levels.

Former Ashburnham Selectman Maggie Whitney said she voted down the override last Tuesday. She said she is critical of the decision to hold a Special Town Meeting where voters may authorize another override vote.

Whitney said the School Committee and the Board of Selectmen should recognize the contingent of Ashburnham voters who initially rejected the override.

“It’s not that we don’t believe in education, everyone believes in education,” said Whitney. “It’s a question of a lot of people in this town can’t afford it.”

A voicemail requesting comment from School Committee Chair David Christianson Jr was not returned.

Gardner News: Override vote set for July 18

Doneen Durling
News Correspondent

ASHBURNHAM – The Board of Selectmen voted to set a town meeting for July 18 for the sole purpose of asking voters for a $475,656 Proposition 2 ½ tax override to benefit the Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District.

Selectmen also voted to set up an election for Aug. 8, for the second vote that would be needed to pass it.

Before the approval, Chairman Kyle Johnson opened up the meeting to listen to public opinion.

Concerned citizen Raven Bergeron suggested that a “frequently asked questions” informational sheet be handed out before the ballot vote for those who did not attend meetings or keep up with the flow of information.

Johnson said that many ideas have been discussed for ways to keep voters in the loop as information on the budget is released.

“The goal is just to get information out and give people what they need to formulate their own opinions,” he said.

Johnson said they are seeking different ways to disseminate information including posting the information at Town Hall, and putting it on the town’s website.

Members of the group Save Our Children and Schools were well-represented at the meeting. They expressed their thanks for the collaboration between the town and School Committee.

Selectman John Mulhall suggested that people watch the town website for any information on informational meetings or forums that will be happening before the Town Meeting.

A memorandum of un­­der­standing was requested by some who believed the vote did not pass because people were wary of the fact that an override is permanent, and there would be no way to control the amount going to the schools the year after the override was passed.

Johnson said the board decided that, in an age of double-speak, it would produce a letter that “cut right to the chase.”

They adopted something simple with just one sentence.

“It is the intention of the current Board of Selectmen to apply any funding procured by a Proposition 2 ½ override to its intended voted purpose in future budget years,” Johnson read from the prepared document.

“We weren’t interested in it being any more complicated than that and really being up to interpretation,” said Johnson.

School Committee member Michelle Gianino nodded her approval of the letter saying, “Straight to the point. No fluff. It’s the best way to go.”

Gianino said that many people she spoke to expressed concern the school district would find itself repeatedly asking for funding if the override was not dedicated consistently to the district.

“Thank you for making that commitment,” she said.

Mulhall said he was happy the School Committee was able to reduce the override number the previous evening.

On June 20, a vote taken at the ballot box by Ashburnham voters for an override in the amount of $679,733 for the school district’s prioritized budget failed by only 24 votes.

School Committee Chairman David Christianson gave all credit for the reduction in the override assessment to School District Business Manager Julie Surprenant and Superintendent Gary Mazzola.

“It’s about a 25 percent reduction in the overall number,” he said. “It’s a good demonstration of the kind of diligence those folks have.”

Johnson said that the budget cycle with all its dates is inherently flawed in that decisions on numbers are made before all the numbers are in. He commended the business administrator and superintendent for their work to make the numbers work.

“I truly believe that there isn’t a corner or nook or cranny of that budget that has not had a light shown on it since Dr. Mazzola and really Julie took over and started digging into that. I am extremely confident,” said Johnson.

Mulhall agreed saying he had studied the 35-page budget and had multiple questions answered.

“We are looking about as lean as we could look,” he said.

Christianson gave a synopsis of the reasons for the reductions to the override request. He said there were three components. He explained that there was $250,000 on the expense side in savings, and $200,000 of was gleaned when the open enrollment and opt-out period for the health plan for the school district ended early last week. The district had additional unexpected opt-outs combined with a 1.5 percent reduction in premium because of additional co-pay changes.

An additional $50,000 savings in heating costs were realized after the numbers came in from the first year of operating the new pellet boiler at Overlook Middle School. Combined with additional savings seen at J.R. Briggs Elementary with its pellet boiler, the savings added up.

Christianson said the balance of the adjustment to the override is the assumption that there is about $70,000 additional Chapter 70 state school aid for transportation and other items the Legislature has factored into the state budget. In total, there is about a $320,000 change to the override numbers.

Johnson said that in his opinion the town is standing at a crossroad with the school district.

“There really is an underlying crisis as it relates to classroom size,” said Johnson. “If we don’t do everything in our legal power to try and correct the problem, I will not have done the job I was elected to do. It is the same tenacity that I applied to the DPW building. If I am prepared to do it for a town building, how can I do anything less for the children?”

Mulhall said that the Board of Selectmen have a commitment. He said that he believes a society is judged on how they treat their elderly and their children.

“I think if we are not giving our children every opportunity, I think that if we don’t support the schools, our community is not going to be worth what we see today, and it is certainly not going to be anything close to what most of us want to see in 20 years.”

Mulhall said the state would not be coming through with a golden ticket.

“If we don’t support our schools, we are going to be struggling to tell our kids that we did the best by them.”

Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz said that if the override gets voted down, chances are a joint Town Meeting of the residents of both towns could be called if the School Committee chooses.

Budrewicz said that if it came to that and the vote in the joint meeting was for the full priority budget, Ashburnham would have to go back and cut $475,000 from the municipal budget (the part not including the schools), and do it over a reduced nine months’ worth of budget.

“That is very important for folks to realize,” said Budrewicz of the municipal budget, saying that scenario would prompt major town layoffs. “Our largest expense, just like with schools and teachers, is staff … so it is a very big concern.”

Gardner News: Override amount reduced

Town to try again at a lower number

Doneen Durling
News Correspondent

ASHBURNHAM – The Overlook School Library was filled with wary anticipation as the Ash­burnham Westminster School Committee met to recertify its budget after the failure of a Proposition 2 1/2 tax override in Ashburnham.

On June 20, Ashburnham voters rejected a $679,733 override for the school district’s prioritized budget by 24 votes. Westminster, which shares the regional school district, passed its companion $591,279 override.

School Business Admin­istrator Julie Surprenant said that due to health insurance and heat savings, she would recommend lowering the district’s prioritized budget by $250,000.

“The final health insurance renewal came in 1.5 percent less than budgeted because the Insurance Ad­­visory Committee accepted an increase in co-pays. The performance contract at Overlook and Oakmont has resulted in more savings than was anticipated. The savings from health insurance and heat is approximately $250,000, so after covering the difference from Level Service to what Ashburnham ap­­proved would still leave $127,735.”

Surprenant advised that the override numbers be lowered so that Ash­burnham’s new proposed number would be $475,656 and Westminster’s would be lowered to $421,926.

The final certified figure to support a prioritized budget in the amount of $29,739,424, developed to sustain the district strategic plan, was voted for by the seven School Committee members present.

Vice Chairman Gwen Farley said that she has heard many times from constituents that the School Committee will find a way without an override because the need was not real.

“People have to realize that we have to finalize a budget when we don’t have the state budget, the school year is not over. All the deadlines for next year’s teacher contracts and health care and all those things happen well after the deadline when we have to come up with a solid number.”

Farley said the number can change even in January when the state can take away what the district built the budget upon.

“When we find money that wasn’t there, we weren’t hiding it. The money is always a moving target.”

Farley said the state still has no budget, so the district is still guessing.

“It’s not that we were hiding it and now bringing it out. We just never know where the money is. We are always chasing it,” she said.

Ashburnham Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz said that the town would have to go back for another double override vote for the changed number, one at a Special Town Meeting and a second at the polls.

Budrewicz said the town would be required to post a Special Town Meeting notice 14 days before the meeting. She said that if selectmen agree Wednesday to hold a Special Town Meeting, the first date they would consider would be July 18.
The Special Election would require 35 days so the town can get the ballots and get things organized through the town clerk, she said.

“Since the town likes to do things on Tuesday, the earliest that would occur would be August 8. Those are a couple of dates we are playing with now. I have no idea what the select board in Ashburnham is going to do.”

Westminster Selectman Wayne Walker said as far as his town is concerned, they would not be required to take up the same process as Ashburnham considering the town has already passed a higher number at the polls. He said the only thing Westminster would be required to do was vote the final figure at the fall Town Meeting.

“As you will recall, the town of Westminster has already appropriated an additional $764,000 over last year for the schools,” said Walker.

Holly Garlock, parent and member of the Save Our Children and Schools group, asked if the School Committee will hold forums to get the word out to voters.

Garlock said that she was hearing from people that they were unaware the last vote taking place.

“I think people are becoming more involved and aware,” she said, this time around, and would like to have a forum before the next vote.

School Committee Chairman David Christianson said that there would be an opportunity to open up the floor at town meeting for discussion. He said that there would also be opportunity for smaller forums.

Ashburnham Selectman Kyle Johnson said if the School Committee wished to offer a public forum in advance of the Town Meeting, the town could offer up the use of the notification service to get the word out. He said it is something the town typically uses around election time for mass notification.

In other business, the School Committee voted to place $419,265 into the newly formed Special Education Stabilization Account. Both Ashburnham and Westminster voted to approve the formation of the account at the last Town Meetings. The district will place funds received from reimbursements for services to the students with special needs. Some of those funds are realized through Medicaid for services rendered.

The Ashburnham Board of Selectmen will meet Wednesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Public Safety Building to discuss the Town Meeting warrant and the subsequent ballot vote.

Sentinel & Enterprise: Ashburnham-Westminster school board OKs $29.7M budget

By Amanda Burke

ASHBURNHAM — The School Committee approved a $29,739,424 budget Tuesday, setting in motion a series of events that could end with another townwide Proposition 2 1/2 override vote in Ashburnham.

“We still have a prioritized budget, we still have all those elements that Gary and Julie presented based on the strategic plan,” said School Committee Chair David Christianson Jr.

The budget was approved after $250,000 in health insurance and heating savings was identified by Superintendent Gary Mazzola and Business Administrator Julie Surprenant.

School officials also came out with a revised estimate for how much money the district expects to receive from the state in fiscal 2018, up $73,629 from the amount that was originally budgeted, Mazzola said.

Combined, those sources of income and savings would reduce the burden on taxpayers in Ashburnham and Westminster by $323,630.

Another Proposition 2 1/2 override vote must be held in Ashburnham to finalize the budget approved by the School Committee Tuesday.

The Ashburnham Board of Selectmen will vote Wednesday on scheduling a Special Town Meeting, where residents would consider a single warrant item: Whether or not they support holding another town-wide ballot vote on a Proposition 2 1/2 override.

If the answer is yes, the new override amount put to voters would be $475,656, about $150,000 less than the amount Ashburnham voters rejected last Tuesday.

Westminster, which passed the override last Tuesday, does not need to hold a Special Town Meeting or schedule another Proposition 2 1/2 vote, school officials said.

Seven members of the Ashburnham Westminster Regional School District School Committee were present at the Tuesday meeting. The committee needed a super-majority of seven members to certify the prioritized budget, which it won by unanimous vote.

Sentinel & Enterprise: Ash-West to limit school choice

By Amanda Burke

ASHBURNHAM — Fewer school-choice students will be admitted to Ashburnham-Westminster regional schools, School Committee Chairman David Christianson Jr. said Monday, as the district starts to see their effect on growing class sizes.

“We believe we need to be able to step back the level of school-choice, take care of our own students first because it’s beginning to affect student-teacher ratios,” Christianson said at special meeting of the Ashburnham Board of Selectmen on Monday.

As recently as last year, the regional school committee scrapped a plan to raise $235,000 by increasing the number of school-choice students it accepts. The district receives $5,000 dollars annually for each of those students.

The reason for putting the kibosh on that revenue source? Some School Committee members feared adding more school-choice pupils would jack up class sizes, and the board decided not to raise the school-choice cap above 200.

Even though the cap stayed flat, students who live in towns and cities other than Ashburnham or Westminster are contributing to large class sizes, Christianson said, in a district where some elementary school classrooms have over 30 students and high school students sometimes struggle to find open sections.

“(We) made the decision to begin to step the school-choice number back, because we’re seeing a capacity problem, particularly in the elementary schools,” he said.

Several school-choice students have left the district since there were 198 in 2016. Currently 186 out-of-district students studying at Ash-West schools.

The district will cap the number of school-choice students at 186 for the 2017-2018 school year, Christianson said. In other words, those school-choice students who graduated this June will be replaced with new entrants, but no more beyond that.

Ashburnham-Westminster Regional Schools remain well-regarded for their academics as the regional district struggles with a significant funding gulf for next fiscal year, Christianson said.

“For all of our problems we’re a high-performing district and folks want to be here,” he said.

The School Committee will vote on a fiscal 2018 budget Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the library of Overlook Middle School.

Last week, a Proposition 2 1/2 override to increase schools funding failed because of a split vote between the two towns in the regional district, with Ashburnham rejecting the measure by 24 votes.

The 10-person regional school committee needs a super-majority of 7 members to sign off on the fiscal 2018 budget. Christianson said just 7 members will be present at the meeting Tuesday, because three are out of town.

Sentinel & Enterprise: Oakmont students rally for funding after failed override

By Amanda Burke

ASHBURNHAM — When members of Oakmont Regional High School’s after-school Art Club last year learned administrators planned to disband their group for want of money to pay its faculty adviser, students snapped into action.

A petition was printed and signed, and students’ disappointment aired on social media. The next day, a voice on the loudspeaker called all Art Club members to the lecture hall.

The about 60 students who participate in Art Club showed up, but so did about one-third of the entire 707-person student body, three Oakmont students said Friday.

The club, members learned inside the lecture hall that autumn day, had been saved.

“You would think football players wouldn’t care about Art Club, but they did,” said Jarrod Tshudy, 17, a rising senior at Oakmont who lists the club among his many extra-curricular activities. “The entire lecture hall was packed.”

A Proposition 2 1/2 override to inject the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District with $1.2 million to hire teaching staff and upgrade technology for fiscal 2018 failed after a split vote between the two towns on Tuesday.

These students said voters must rally behind funding increases if they wish to preserve the district’s reputation for academic excellence. They worried about the ways steeper budget cuts could affect their education, and by extension, their futures.
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They highlighted large class sizes, reductions in the number of course sections at Oakmont, and the real possibility their high school will lose New England Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation if a librarian isn’t rehired.

Oakmont’s previous librarian became an Advanced Placement teacher when the teacher he replaced quit unexpectedly in fall 2015.

A full-time, accredited librarian to replace him was never hired, the students said, adding that part-time staffers currently run the library.

“Losing accreditation damages how colleges view our applications,” said Oakmont rising Senior Danielle Caisse, 17. “I’ve worked hard, not just in high school but all the years leading up to it. If I don’t have a librarian, and that’s why I don’t get into my top choice college, I’m going to be very mad.”

Tshudy said his high school diploma will lose value if Oakmont is stripped of its accreditation.

“It’s going to turn into a piece of paper that doesn’t have meaning attached to it,” he said.

The school is already on warning status with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Superintendent Gary Mazzola has said.

According to the grass-roots parents’ group, Support Our Children and Schools, Oakmont had 41 sections fewer sections last school year than it did in 2006.

With fewer sections to choose from, some students are forced to spend a quarter of their day in the library for a “directed studies” period, otherwise known as study hall, Tshudy said.

“Sometimes you don’t have any homework to do, so you’re just sitting there for 83 minutes,” said Tshudy. “A good amount of students have that problem.”

Tshudy said there weren’t enough desks in his English classroom to seat the about 30 students in his section last fall. So two students were placed on a classroom couch, and two others worked at a table where books and classroom supplies were usually placed.

By the end of the semester, the class watched the Great Gatsby movie because there wasn’t enough time to finish the book, while the teacher dealt with “a few cheating scandals” and disciplinary issues, said Tshudy.

“Students had a hard time in that class paying attention, a lot of bad things happened because there were so many students,” he said. “She’s (the teacher is) only one lady, and she couldn’t get everyone to do what they needed to do.”

Tshudy, Caisse and rising Junior Olivia Kuehl, 16, each shared stories detailing how their younger siblings got along in class sizes of between 25 and 30 students.

Kuehl, 16, a member of the school math team, marching band, and Student Advisory Council, said her younger brother, Nick, struggled to keep pace in fifth grade.

Nick’s teacher juggled too many students to provide the individualized attention he needed, Kuehl said.

“That was the reason why my brother got held back,” she said. “He struggles to learn in class because his teacher can’t get around to everyone.”

The three students said they do not know what to expect from the fiscal 2018 schools budget. At a special meeting Tuesday, the School Committee will discuss next steps after the override failed in Ashburnham by 24 votes.

The students don’t, however, plan to stay silent. Tshudy said he will to knock on doors and discuss the budget with neighbors.

Kuehl said she’ll continue attending School Committee meetings, and Caisse said she’ll reach out to voters in person and on Twitter, encouraging her above-18 Oakmont peers to register to vote should another override question make it onto the ballot.

“We are the future of these towns,” said Caisse. “And if we don’t have the tools of a basic education, we can’t give back to the community.”

Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/news/ci_31090538/oakmont-students-rally-funding-after-failed-override#ixzz4l6QkUs6X

Sentinel and Enterprise: Ashburnham override puzzles school board

Amanda Burke
Sentinel and Enterprise
Updated: 06/22/2017 09:54:37 AM EDT

WESTMINSTER — The School Committee isn’t ready to back down the day after Ashburnham voters rejected a $1.2 million tax override to fund regional schools.

But they don’t know exactly how to proceed. The committee is consulting with legal council to determine how they could still secure that funding for next school year, including possibly holding another override vote in Ashburnham, said Chairman David Christianson Jr.

“We haven’t had 24 hours to figure it out ourselves,” Christianson said to more than 30 parents, students, and local government officials gathered at the meeting Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday, Westminster voters approved the override by an “overwhelming” margin, Christianson said. The override failed in Ashburnham by just 24 votes.

That slim margin dealt a blow to those who spent months drumming up support for the override, said Support Our Children and Schools member Natalie Nelson.

“I’m upset for the kids,” Nelson said, stressing that her organization does not endorse the adoption of a “level services” budget that would not add back teaching positions lost in recent years.

“We feel that there is need for public discussion but we feel strongly at S.O.C.S to re-certify at a lower number should be off the table,” she said.

The school committee has 15 days by state law to take action after the override failed Tuesday, Christianson said. “I feel strongly that it can’t end here,” he said.
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Parents at the meeting voiced concern that Oakmont Regional High School will lose accreditation if funding isn’t secured to hire a certified librarian.

They thanked S.O.C.S for mobilizing the community to get out and vote, and decried the narrow loss in Ashburnham.

Superintendent Gary Mazzola, who said he “hasn’t seen the light of day for three months” while working on the budget, forecast problems next year if more money isn’t made available to hire additional teachers and staff.

“We had a lot of problems this year of kids not being able to get the courses they need,” Mazzola said. He said 9 classes at J. R. Briggs Elementary would have between 30 to 32 students in the fall if a “level services” budget is ultimately accepted.

“That’s brutal,” said one parent.

The School Committee will reconvene at a special meeting next week to vote on what to do next.

Gardner News: School Committee mulls options after failure of Prop. 2 1/2 overrride

Negative comments on social media after the vote are called ‘not OK’

Doneen Durling
News Correspondent

ASHBURNHAM The Ashburnham Westminster School Committee met Wednesday after a failed override attempt on Tuesday, and listened to the concerns of the parents and students from both towns, though they had little time to process the loss and offer solutions.

School Committee Chairman David Christianson told the gathering that there were options. One was to accept the level funding provided by the towns and move on.
“The other option is to bring the prioritized budget as it stands back into focus,” he said.

On Monday, Westminster voters approved a $591,279 Proposition 2 ½ tax override, 893-528.

In Ashburnham the override in the amount of $679,733 lost by a mere 24 votes, 663-687.

Christianson said that one more option is to alter and reduce the number which would require that both towns go back to their town meetings to vote on the reduction, and then bring that final figure to the ballot.

Christianson explained that the School Committee has yet to understand the process. He said if they request that Ashburnham go back to vote on the same number, they are unsure if Westminster must also repeat the process. He said legal counsel is currently looking at the process.

“We’ve never sent the same number back,” he said, “at least that’s my recollection.”

Vice Chairman Gwen Farley added, “We’ve only had 23 hours to figure it out. We are trying as fast as we can.”

Farley said the School Committee still supports the prioritized budget.

Christianson said a joint town meeting between the two towns is the last step in the process. He said if there are two rounds of an override attempt and a budget has not been agreed upon, there is an option of a joint town meeting.

“You bring all the voters that want to show up together into one place.It has happened a few times over the past 30 years.”

Whatever decision that is made at the joint meeting is final. Christianson said that the School Committee usually recommends a number. The number can be changed on the town floor.

Members of the Ashburnham Board of Selectmen were present at the School Committee meeting Wednesday, and voiced their support for trying to pass the override one more time. Former Selectman Duncan Phyfe, who is now on the Capital Planning Committee, also expressed support for another try.

One parent asked if Westminster, independent of Ashburnham, do anything to better the student-teacher ratio in Westminster only.

Christianson said, according to what he could recall from the regional agreement, Westminster could contribute extra funding for the upkeep of the building, but the instructional budget is a regional responsibility.

One student stood and said there is a saying at Oakmont.

“You get out of Oakmont what you put into it. I’ve put a lot into it and I just want to say just keep with it and don’t give up on us because we are here to fight for you too, but we need your help as well.”

Parent Kendra Steucek told the committee that social media was filled with rudeness after the override failure.

“It’s really not OK, because it causes more of a divide for our communities.” Steucek said that many of the negative comments were about the elderly.

“My elderly neighbors in my entire neighborhood … they voted for our schools, so that isn’t actually the case. I just want to say we need to be more kind to each other and ask questions and continue to support each other,” she said.

School Committee member Ellen Holmes said that the state budget is still not solidified, and there could be cuts coming from the governor. She said another problem on the horizon is Medicaid cuts proposed in the federal budget that could have significant impact on the school budget.

Ashburnham Board of Selectmen Chairman Kyle Johnson said he would ask the town administrator to post a selectmen meeting for Wednesday at the Public Safety Building at 6:30 p.m. to discuss what could be done on Ashburnham’s end.

Johnson also stated that he was pleased with the increased communication between the school district and the town.

The School Committee decided to meet Tuesday, June 27, 6:30 p.m. at Oakmont to decide the next step. Committee members fully voiced their continued support for the prioritized budget, and their intention to request the amount that would support the strategic plan.

Gardner News: Ashburnham says ‘no’

Westminster OKs override, but 2 towns must agree

Doneen Durling
News Correspondent

As a regional district, it is difficult to pass a Proposition 2 ½ tax override request, but people said what makes it most frustrating is when one town approves it while the other doesn’t. It only takes one town’s rejection to make an override null and void.

During yesterday’s override vote, Westminster approved a $591,279 override, by a vote of 893-528, a margin of 365 votes. The town had a showing of 1,422 voters at the polls.

Ashburnham rejected its $679,733 override by only 24 votes, 663-687. There were 1,350 voters who turned up at the J.R. Briggs Elementary school.

Superintendent Gary Mazzola was dismayed at the final count and said the district had worked extremely hard to lose by only 24 votes.

“It’s going to be worse when there are 32 kids in a class,” he warned. “This particular override was about restoring personnel and providing enough teachers for the kids at the high school. The fact that it was only 24 votes is a travesty.”
Mazzola said students understood what the rejection meant for them.

“I am more concerned about the low elementary grades and the high school,” he said.

Mazzola said there has been no infusion of revenue in the last decade to keep up with the needs of the district, and he predicted that it would only get worse.

“We are pretty strapped and funding hasn’t grown over 1 percent in the last 10 years,” he said.

When asked if he thought the drive for reform should be at the state level, Mazzola said state revenues are also shy of what is needed.

“Their issues are so much bigger than ours. We’re just a small community. We have to take care of our own. For a few short dollars, about 20 bucks a month, I just don’t think people would miss it. This was an organized attempt at a strategic plan that drove the budget process. Everyone knew what the money was for. We were very transparent.”

Mazzola said that along with the large class size, he was worried about the high school accreditation and the lack of teachers at the high school.

“If you think it is bad this year, wait until the following year,” he said. “We have scraped and skinned and really tried to become as transparent and efficient as possible. People buy homes in this town because they know we care about kids’ education. Who would want to buy a home when they learn there are 32 students in one classroom?”

School Committee Chair­man David Christianson said the committee will discuss the next step this evening during the School Committee meeting. He said there are a few options.

“We can accept the results of the override vote, and certify the budget that is currently funded, which is below level services. We could choose to send the same number back to Ashburnham for another vote. We could choose to change the number. I don’t think you can go up … and why would you do that … you would go down in which case both towns would have to vote.”

Christianson said that the vote could be brought to a joint town meeting, which has happened before.

“The question (Wednesday) will be do you certify what you have which is below level services? The danger is in interpreting the vote,” said Christianson.

The School Committee will meet at Overlook Middle School at 7 p.m.

Gardner News: Tax impact tool is touted

Towns prepare for override vote

By Doneen Durling

ASHBURNHAM A Proposition 2 ½ tax over­ride is a forever commitment for taxpayers, and some people considering whether to vote for the proposal for one to support a prioritized budget on June 20 are trying to nail down a final number of what it means to them.

Natalie Nelson came to the Board of Selectmen on Monday to explain an online tool that is available to use to calculate the impact on residents of both Ashburnham and Westminster for an override for the school district.

“A Support Our Children and Schools member has created what we feel is a very effective tool,” said Nelson.

There is an effort to get the news into the community. Nelson will be at the Ashburnham Senior Center on Thursday at 11 a.m. with Superintendent Gary Mazzola to answer any questions about the school budget.

She said her organization, Support Our Children and Schools, believes strongly in face-to-face discussion.

“We believe when we learn face-to-face about the facts and have an opportunity to ask questions, there is greater learning and less rumors, and together people can find a solution,” she said.

Nelson explained that the group is looking for long-term solutions and is putting pressure on the state because of chronic underfunding.

The group, after attending many meetings and looking at data, believes the only short-term solution for having fewer classes with 30 or more students, and cuts to programs, is an override.

“That is why we have joined the School Committee in their override effort,” said Nelson.

There has been a lot of feedback indicating that an override is difficult for those living on really tight budgets.

“We want to do what we can to support Ashburnham residents in terms of how the override would affect (their) budget and also get the word out about tax relief programs because there are tax relief programs for seniors in Ashburnham,” said Nelson.

There is a prioritized budget calculator tool on the Support Our Children and Schools website that will show the impact of the override for taxpayers in both Ashburnham and Westminster. By going to ashwestsocs.org, taxpayers can select which town their property is located, type in the property’s assessed value, and will see the impact of the prioritized budget proposed by the school district.

According to the online calculator, someone with a $200,000 home in Westminster would see their taxes increase from $3,748 a year (or $312.33 per month) to $3,878 ($323.17 per month), a difference of $130.08 a year (or $10.84 per month.)

Surprisingly, Ashburnham would see a greater increase. According to the calculations, someone with an assessed home value of $200,000 would see an increase from $4,558 (or $379.83 per month) to $4,768, (or $397.33 per month). The difference due to override would be $210 per year (or $17.50 per month).

Nelson said that she will help anyone that comes on Thursday to navigate the website if needed. She said the calculator also will search town records for the assessed value if someone is unsure of the assessed value of their home.

“If you type in your name or address, it will bring up for you your assessed value,” she said.

Nelson said that there is a hope people might be able to see the impact on their own budget to help them make the decision. Nelson said the impact to her own budget would be $10.89.

“In my budget, it is a lot. Everything counts so I am very sympathetic to how much … even one or two dollars makes a difference when you cut everything. At the same time, just for my home value, it is worth it to me to cut more so that I can cover that $10.89 per month so that not only my kids, but all the kids in Ashburnham Westminster can have an education that supports their learning.”

Nelson said that more than 250 people have already used the calculator. The towns will vote by ballot on June 20 to either pass or reject the override for the school district.