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.
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.