Narrow defeat in Orange for $339,722 override to fund Mahar

  • Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange Nov. 28, 2016. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2020 2:58:30 PM
Modified: 8/4/2020 2:58:25 PM

ORANGE — Eight votes prevented the ratification of a Proposition 2½ override Monday, seven weeks after a roughly $4.6 million budget for the joint middle/high school was adopted at Annual Town Meeting.

Residents voted 367 to 360 against ratification, which required a simple majority.

A vote in the affirmative would have provided funding for the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School assessment. A motion was made at the June 15 Town Meeting to increase the Finance Committee’s recommended budget by $339,722, but that vote was contingent on the override’s passage. This rejection means there will be a reduction in the assessment.

Two-thirds of the school district’s towns — Orange, New Salem, Wendell and Petersham — must approve the district’s budget for it to be adopted. Wendell and Petersham approved it, while New Salem residents voted to reduce their town’s assessment by $123,680. If Orange voters had passed the override, however, three out of the four towns would have approved the budget, more than satisfying the two-thirds majority necessary for adoption, and New Salem would have been obligated to contribute its share as a result.

On Tuesday morning, Mahar School Committee Chair Peter Cross said his committee was slated to meet at 4 p.m. that day and he estimated there was roughly a 50% chance its members would come with a revised budget. He said Orange’s assessment would be level-funded if roughly $430,000 is cut, which is what Orange and New Salem residents voted for at their respective Annual Town Meetings. He also said this will make eliminating positions “hard to avoid.”

The meeting’s main topic will be Mahar’s reopening plans — fully remote learning, in-person education and a hybrid of the two.

Finance Committee Chair Keith LaRiviere said he predicts this matter will have to be resolved at a Special Town Meeting at either Orange or New Salem in the next month to month and a half.

“Since our request (going into Orange’s Annual Town Meeting) was to level-fund their assessment, at least in theory, they should come back with a budget number that is lower,” he said. “I hope that they do that. There’s no guarantee that they will, but I hope that they will.”

LaRiviere said he was not shocked by Monday’s outcome and what surprised him was the vote margin.

“I’m surprised that the vote was that close. I had hoped that the override would pass, but the voters in Orange are pretty well-known for not approving override requests. So, I was kind of expecting that it would fail,” he said, adding that it seems to happen “more often than not.”

Cross, on the other hand, did not see the rejection coming. He also said he stood with signs advocating for ratification outside the polling location at Mahar from noon, when polls opened, to 1 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., when polls closed.

“I was hopeful,” he said. “It’s hard to lose a close one like that.”

There was a 14% voter turnout, according to Orange Town Clerk Nancy Blackmer.

Reach DomenicPoli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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