Category Archives: Updates

Advocating for More School Funding at the State Level

Dear SOCS members,

In addition to getting out the vote for the July 18th Special Town Meeting in Ashburnham, 7:00 pm at Oakmont, we continue to advocate for more funding for schools from the state. Most recently our efforts have focused on supporting S.223 — An Act Modernizing the Foundation Budget for the 21st Century — a bill that would implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Committee with a multi-year phase-in.

In 1993, Massachusetts passed the Education Reform Act to ensure that all students receive a quality education, regardless of where they live. The bill established the “Foundation Budget,” a number that is calculated annually to determine how much state funding (Chapter 70 Education Aid) and local funding (Required Local Contribution) each school district will receive. The Foundation Budget formula has not been updated since it was created 24 years ago. The 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC) found that health care and special education costs have far surpassed assumptions built into the original formula. As a result, those increasing costs have forced districts to cut other critical investments. Bills like this will increase our community’s chances of receiving more funding from the state.

For more information and to sign our online petition supporting the bill.

Join Natalie Nelson (SOCS planning committee) and Ellen Holmes (AWRSD School Committee member) in Boston on July 25th, when all school finance bills, including S.223, will be presented at the state house. The public is welcome to come and listen. We are also welcome to testify on the bill’s behalf.

  • The hearings begin at 10:00 am and go all day.
  • They will take place in Hearing Room 2A.
  • There will be tables set up outside of the hearing room with separate sign up sheets for each education bill. Sign your name on the list for the bill you support and you will have the opportunity to speak for up to 3 minutes when the bill is called.
  • People are also encouraged to submit written testimony to supplement their testimony.
  • There is no timeline since some bills may have no one speak and others may have multiple people, so plan to get there before 10:00 and spend the day.
  • Contact Natalie at ncoggeshall@yahoo.com if you would like to coordinate efforts, including carpooling.

Also, SOCS member Holly Garlock will be meeting with Senator Gobi’s aide during office hours on July 17th at 2:00 pm to share concerns about ongoing funding issues and discuss school choice funding. Other SOCS members are welcome to attend. Contact Holly at hollyhgarlock@yahoo.com if you can’t make it but have specific questions or concerns you would like her to raise.

We can’t stress enough the importance of continuing to work long-term on the structural problems with school funding at the state level. Please spread the word!

Best-
Lori, Natalie, Holly & Tiffany

Timeline for Re-Vote in Ashburnham

Dear SOCS members,

The Ashburnham Board of Selectmen has approved the following timeline for sending the new, certified school budget number to residents for their approval.

  • Tuesday, July 18th: Special Town Meeting, 7:00 pm at Oakmont Regional High School

IF the new number is approved at the special town meeting, then …

  • Wednesday, July 19th: last chance to register to vote in the August 8th Special Town Election (Town Clerk’s office open until 8 pm to accept registrations)
  • Monday, August 7th: last day to request an absentee ballot application; due by noon at the Town Clerk’s office
  • Tuesday, August 8th: Special Town Election, polls open from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm at Briggs Elementary School

Natalie Nelson (ncoggeshall@yahoo.com) and Cathy Cunningham (cmhand17@comcast.net) will be leading the “get out the vote” campaign in Ashburnham. Let them know if you have questions or are available to help. Also, please talk with friends, neighbors and family about the upcoming votes. We continue to meet folks who haven’t heard about the school funding issues in our towns.

Webmaster Jonathan Tegg is updating the estimated tax increase calculator on the SOCS website, to reflect the new, lower override number. We will let you know once it is up and running. Also, we will have an update on our efforts to advocate at the state level next week. Stay tuned!

Tiffany, Holly, Lori & Natalie

School Committee Certifies New Budget Number

The School Committee unanimously (with seven members attending) approved a new budget number of $29,739,424 for the 2017-2018 school year. While lower than the budget previously certified by the committee, the new budget fully funds the Strategic Plan/Prioritized Budget.

Next Steps

The new budget now goes back to the towns.

  • Westminster: since the town approved the override on June 20th, no further action is required until fall town meeting, when the town’s appropriation will be adjusted to reflect the new, lower number.
  • Ashburnham: since the town did not approve the override on June 20th, a special town meeting and second ballot vote will be required to approve the school budget. The Board of Selectmen will meet on Wednesday, 6/28 and must approve and set dates for both the meeting and the ballot vote.

Why the Lower Number?

With the end of the school year, Superintendent Gary Mazzola and Business Administrator Julie Surprenant were able to identify $250,000 in savings.

  • When the health insurance open enrollment period for staff closed in mid-June, 9 employees came off family plans and 3 came off individual plans, resulting in savings for the district.
  • The final health insurance renewal came in at 1.5% less than budgeted because the Insurance Advisory Committee accepted an increase in co-pays.
  • The performance contract at Overlook and Oakmont (building upgrades, especially new pellet boilers) resulted in higher than anticipated savings in heating costs.

In addition, the district anticipates receiving more in Chapter 70, Transportation, and Charter Reimbursement funding from the state. As a result, the district’s assessment to each town is lower.

If the Ashburnahm Board of Selectmen decides to move forward with a re-vote, we will be looking for help from all SOCS members to once again get out the vote. Stay tuned for more information.

Holly, Tiffany, Lori & Natalie

June 26: Ashburnham BOS Looking for Public Input Tonight

Dear SOCS members,

There are several important meetings this week about the 2017-2018 school budget.

The Ashburnham Board of Selectmen are now having two meetings to discuss the school budget situation.

  • TODAY—Monday, June 26th at 6:30—at the Public Safety Building they will discuss the override vote results and give the public a chance to share thoughts.
  • Wednesday, June 28th at 6:30 they will focus on next steps based on the School Committee decision (made at their meeting on Tuesday). The BOS have not yet confirmed a location—either in the Safety Building or in a room at the Town Hall. We will let you know.

The AWRSD School Committee Committee will meet on Tuesday, June 27 at 6:30 pm in the Overlook Middle School Library to review and vote on the best option for moving forward with the 2017-2018 operating budget.

  • Certify the budget represented by the amounts approved at the annual town meetings last May.
  • Certify a new number between the number approved at town meetings and the prioritized budget.
    Re-certify the prioritized budget.

There will be a chance for public comment, and you can write your thoughts to the committee (contact details available here) if you’re unable to attend.

We hope you can be part of these important discussions.

Lori, Natalie, Holly & Tiffany
Support Our Children & Schools

School Budget Update

The AWRSD School Committee met on Wednesday, June 21st, to discuss next steps in the wake of the failed override to fund the school budget for the 2017-2018 school year. Chairman Dave Christianson announced that the committee would not make a decision until the following week. The committee is currently considering three options:

  1. Certify the budget represented by the amounts approved at the annual town meetings last May. This amount would be just below level services. Choosing option #1 would bring things to a close, and put a budget in place for July 1st. We would abandon any hope of funding the strategic plan for the next school year.
  2. Certify a lower budget. This would send the budget back to a special town meeting in both towns and assuming passage there, a 2nd override vote in both towns.
  3. Re-certify the prioritized budget. Not sure about how the process would work for this option—would you have to go back to both towns or just Ashburnham, and could you go straight to a ballot vote or must you hold a special town meeting first? The school committee is currently consulting with lawyers and MA Department of Elementary & Secondary Education to answer these questions.

Most school committee members were leaning towards option #3, re-certifying the prioritized budget, because:

  • Overwhelming “yes” in Westminster and very close in Ashburnham (lost by 24 votes).
  • AWRSD has created a Strategic Plan to back up their funding request.
  • The need is so great—we are so far behind now that even level services is a loss.

By law, the school committee must take action within 15 days of the failed override vote. The school committee will meet on Tuesday, June 27th at 6:30 PM in the Overlook Middle School library to make a final decision. We encourage SOCS members to attend next week’s meeting to share their thoughts on which option would be best for our kids and communities.

Ashburnham residents should also consider attending next week’s Board of Selectmen meeting: Wednesday, June 28th at 6:30 PM at the Public Safety Building.

Finally, if you have a green and white lawn sign please contact one of us to arrange pick up.

Thanks so much for your interest and help.

Tiffany, Lori, Holly & Natalie

Override Results: Split Vote

It is disappointing to announce that the override did not pass in both towns. It passed in Westminster and did not pass in Ashburnham.  Despite the outcome, we know members of both communities worked tirelessly to support our children and the AWRSD. Thank you so much for taking the time to ask questions, learn more about the budget process, hang signs, talk with neighbors, friends, and relatives, and vote. The School Committee will be meeting tomorrow, June 21st, to discuss the next steps for our district.

During the past few months it has been wonderful to see community members of both towns communicating, problem solving, and working together.  We hope to continue to listen, learn, and collaborate during the months to come.  Our district will continue to face issues with course offerings, large class sizes, accreditation and access to sports and clubs. We will need to work collectively to make progress and move forward.  SOCS will continue with our efforts to put pressure on the state to adequately fund our school district and hope you will be a part of this effort.

Lori, Natalie, Holly & Tiffany
ashwestsocs.org

Override for Schools Only One Week Away

Noon on June 19th is your last chance to submit an application for an absentee ballot to your town hall if you won’t be able to vote on the 20th.

The final push is on! We’ve put out the lawn signs and increased our Facebook posts, but we need your help with the in-person advocacy that is most effective in getting out the vote. Here’s how you can make a difference.

Stand at key locations with a “Vote Yes for Schools” sign the weekend before, the day before, or the day of the vote.

  • Click here to sign up online; look for the tabs at the bottom of your screen to choose a location.
  • You can also email one of us with the dates and times you are available.
  • We have created two “slots” for each location and time—sign up on your own or with a friend.
  • We have some signs available (one printed, a couple more homemade) or you can make your own. Email us if you need a sign.
  • Contact us for more information on the rules about where to stand.

Talk with friends, family and neighbors about when and where to vote, and why they should vote “yes.” Here are a few key talking points on how the override will help:

  • Keeps class sizes small. With no override, 12 elementary school classes will have 29-30 students each next year.
  • Staffs the libraries at our schools. Oakmont’s accreditation is at risk due to the lack of a certified librarian. Libraries at Overlook & WES/MHS schools are no longer staffed.
  • Creates enough course offerings at the high school. 250 students have no academic option for 1/4 of the school day this year.
  • Provides access to freshman basketball, homework club, & many more activities that were cut at the high/middle schools, and keeps user fees from increasing.
  • Funds 2 digital learning coaches & technology upgrades that will prepare students for college & career.

Remember, you can send residents to ashwestsocs.org to calculate the impact the override will have on their estimated property tax bill for next year. The site also includes a more specific list of what the override will fund.

Thanks as always!

Natalie Nelson
Tiffany Davis
Holly Garlock
Lori Leclair

Help Needed for Get Out the Vote Campaign

As the June 20th override vote approaches, SOCS is busy planning a “get out the vote” campaign. We need your help!

  • Talk with friends, family and neighbors about when and where to vote, and why they should vote “yes.”
  • Distribute flyers at community events. Let us know when and where, and we will get a stack of flyers to you.
  • Put a “Vote Yes for Schools” sign on your lawn. We have a limited number of signs available for those who live in highly visible locations.
  • Stand at key locations with a “Vote Yes for Schools” sign, either the weekend before or the day of the vote.

Contact one of us if you can help with flyers or signs.

Best-
Holly Garlock
Natalie Nelson
Tiffany Davis
Lori Leclair

It’s Time We Reinvest in Our Kids & Community

Dear SOCS members,

On June 20th the citizens of Ashburnham and Westminster will go to the polls to decide if the towns should fund the School Committee’s “Prioritized Budget.” SOCS believes the answer should be “yes.”

Every Vote Counts

We share this information with you in the hope that you will talk to your family, friends and neighbors. Spread the word: it’s time we reinvest in our kids and community.

Thanks as always for your support!
Natalie, Holly, Lori & Tiffany