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.