Tied Northfield vote means override failed — for now
NORTHFIELD — A tied vote Tuesday means the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget stands defeated — unless a recount yields a different result or another vote is held.
The 524 ballots were split down the middle Tuesday, with 262 each for and against a Proposition 2½ override that would have exempted the town’s $4.17 million share of the school budget from the annual tax levy limit. Voter turnout was 24.5 percent of the 2,135 registered.
Interim Town Clerk Joseph Powers said the tie vote effectively defeats the override, since it needed a majority of “yes” votes to pass.
Residents have until July 18 to submit a recount petition, signed by 10 or more registered Northfield voters. Powers said state law does not specify when the recount must be performed, but until then, all election materials will remain under lock and key.
Another override vote could also be held, said Powers, and the decision to do so would be made by the Selectboard.
Selectboard Chairman John “Jack” Spanbauer said he expects there to be a recount. The board will consult legal counsel to review the implications of a tied vote.
Second override vote?
“If it’s still tied, we’ll have to decide what to do,” he said. “Does that mean the ballot question fails? Do we have to have another election or is it just a good idea to have another vote?”
A second override would be the town’s third vote on the school budget.
Northfield’s May annual town meeting approved a $4.17 million share of the district budget, contingent upon the override. A lower figure of $3.87 million was approved as part of the town’s general budget, though the town will be on the hook for at least another $126,000.
The increase is due to Bernardston’s town meeting vote, which approved a share of $2.45 million, an increase of 4 percent from the previous assessment but less than the $2.62 million requested by the district.
Town shares are determined by a state formula that uses a five-year rolling average of each town’s student enrollment in the district. The total school budget requires approval of three of the four district towns.
While Leyden and Warwick approved their full requested shares, Bernardston and Northfield did not. Bernardston’s approved amount was proportionately higher than Northfield’s, meaning a new default budget will be based on Bernardston’s numbers.
That would leave the district short as much as $749,657 out of its $14.13 million budget, less than half of which comes from state aid and other revenues. The district expects to receive a boost of up to $300,000 in a state transportation reimbursement, approved by the state Legislature and awaiting action from the governor.
That would leave the district with a shortfall of about $450,000.
Pioneer cuts would be needed
District Superintendent Dayle Doiron has anticipated that the district would need to make dozens of layoffs of professional and paraprofessional employees to make up the difference. Discretionary spending has already been cut as far as it can, she said, leaving future reductions to come out of staff.
Doiron sent out 46 “reduction in force” notices to staff at all five district schools. She said that doesn’t mean all 46 will be laid off, but it gives the district the option to do so.
Doirion said she would have a better idea of the actual number of layoffs, and which positions would be cut, once final figures from the state come in.
The district also has the chance to present a new budget proposal, which would fall somewhere between the full request and the budget approved by Bernardston’s vote.
School Committee Chairwoman Patricia Shearer said the budget subcommittee will meet next week to discuss its options. Shearer said the meeting had not been scheduled as of Wednesday afternoon, but she expects it to take place early in the week, likely at the Pioneer Valley Regional School.
While the requested budget called for a 12 percent increase from Northfield, and smaller increases from the other towns, the overall budget request was 3.39 percent more than the current year’s.
Doiron said this is due to several factors, including near-stagnant state aid and dried-up reserves in School Choice and “excess and deficiency” accounts.
“It used to be a 50/50 split” between the state and towns, she said. “Now it’s more like 30/70.”
The district had tapped into its reserves for the last six fiscal years to keep town assessments low, but those reserves now stand depleted, leaving the district to go to its towns for the money.
The $3.87 million share of the district budget advised by the Finance Committee left Northfield’s 2015 budget only $250 below the levy limit.
A failed override means the town will have to cut from other budget items or capital projects, or tap into its stabilization accounts or “free cash” to come up with the difference. All of those options would require town meeting approval.
You can reach David Rainville at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 279