With 85 Proposition 2½ ballot questions voted on to date – out of 104 total ballot questions expected by the end of the year – just a handful of school districts can claim victory in adding funds to their budgets for fiscal 2017.
Only Ashfield and Topsfield have approved overrides to fund school budgets. Ashfield approved an additional $120,000 to go toward general town and school budgets, and Topsfield approved a $140,000 override for the elementary school budget. Without those funds, Topsfield school officials said, class sizes would likely increase and the full-time status of some teachers would be at risk.
Significant losses are being felt in the member towns of the Wachusett, Groton-Dunstable, and Whitman-Hanson regional school districts, where member towns failed to approve their portions of the school budgets. Each district must now revise its budget without the anticipated additional funds from overrides passed by some towns, a process that could take months.
Last year, the Wachusett Regional School District did not adopt a budget until October, being forced in the interim to operate on a month-to-month basis based on the previous year’s budget. This is the second year in a row that Wachusett has needed to make adjustments due to override losses.
In Groton-Dunstable, the School Committee has emphasized the need for more support staff and special education services, but the district is now facing a budget increase of $2.73 million over last year rather than the $4 million increase that would have been available if overrides had passed.
Hanson and Whitman both held annual town elections on May 21, when voters in each town rejected its portion of the $3 million override for the regional school district. As a result, local officials say, the district’s budget will now be a “level-service budget.” The district has struggled with large class sizes and had planned to hire new teachers and implement full-day kindergarten.
Since significant portions of school programs are mandated by the state, a failed override often means that funds to maintain and expand programs and services in schools need to come from other municipal departments. In Ashland, the school budget will absorb approximately 70 percent, or $153,000, of the shortfall, while the municipal budget will take on the additional $65,000 of a $218,000 funding gap.
Douglas also faces a significant setback after the defeat of a proposed $1.7 million override. Of the total, $1.5 million would have been added to the school budget; now, officials say, the district needs to cut 12.5 teacher positions and increase class sizes to as many as 37 at the high school.
School funding overrides were also defeated in Norton, Webster and West Brookfield.
Debt exclusion and capital expenditure projects have seen more favorable results this spring. Of the 67 non-override ballot questions expected this year, 39 have passed so far, a success rate of 60 percent.
In June, voters in Arlington, Easton, Marblehead and Winthrop head to the polls to cast ballots on six debt exclusion questions and one operational override.

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