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.