Sheffield Says 'No' to OverrideBy Nichole Dupont
09:40AM / Friday, June 24, 2011
SHEFFIELD, Mass. — Voters turned out in record numbers on Thursday night to once again cast their ballots regarding the school budget. And once again, this time with a more decisive turnout, Article 2, which would allow for an appropriation of $83,000 (contingent upon a Proposition 2 1/2 override) in addition to the district's $5.8 million fiscal 2012 budget, was shut down by 49 votes.
Town Administrator Joseph Kellogg (with mic) and the Selectmen explain the complex Southern Berkshire Regional School District budget.
Article 1 of the warrant, which asked for the appropriation of the original amount of $5,812,155, passed with 213 to 116.
According to Town Administrator Joseph Kellogg, who recently announced his retirement, the 2012 school budget is nothing short of a brain teaser.
"This is something of a complex issue," Kellogg said. "On May 2 the town voted not to approve the school budget by two votes. The [Southern Berkshire Regional] School Committee recommended this appropriation and they have come back with the same budget that you saw at the last meeting. They have a right to do that."
While Sheffield voters have defeated the budget, the fate of the $83,000 rests with voters in New Marlborough, the last of the five towns to say their piece regarding the Proposition 2 1/2 override.
Many parents and teachers who came to Thursday's meeting were frustrated with the outcome. Amy Murray, a teacher at the school as well as the mother of three boys in the district, said the vote was not about money but about opportunity.
"I want to make sure my boys have the same opportunities that we had as kids," she said. "We are all educated adults, many of us went to this school and even then people just like us voted so that we could have everything we needed. There is a way to get $83,000; we've done it before when this happened, we can do it again."
There was a heated debate between voters in favor of passing Article 2 and the town Finance Committee as to where the town could come up with the $83,000 that would not have involved an override. School Committee member Dennis Sears argued that the town had more than enough free cash to foot the bill.
"We have a sum in free cash as of right now that is almost $500,000," he said. "The state says that the town should have between 3 and 5 percent of its budget in free cash. If we took that money out we would still have $414,000 and that still leaves us at almost 5 percent. We don't need an override and we don't need to have taxes raised because it's already been appropriated. What is inappropriate is that money was taken out of that cash for a truck and a very big stabilization fund."
Sears suggested the town vote then and there to take the $83,000 out of the free cash coffers, but Town Counsel Gary Brackett ruled that such a vote would be considered out of order as voters require advanced notice when anything from the budget is being decided. Kellogg was hesitant to even consider free cash as a source for the remaining $83,000, saying that it was like "budgeting groceries out of your savings account."
"You're going to run out of money sooner or later and you're going to be hungry," he said.
Voters and elected officials deliberated for more than two hours before reaching a final decision. More than half of the some 350 people in attendance left the meeting before the Article 2 votes were even counted. After the results were revealed, Kellogg spoke a final time.
"The school budget has been defeated regardless of what happens with the override vote next month," he said. "The town's first assessment doesn't come until Aug. 15. It's not like the teachers and staff will not be paid or anything like that. We have to see what happens in New Marlborough."