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.