Boards’ Last Hurrah

Front Page / Feb. 16, 2017 9:58am EST

Unified Budget Ready for Town Mtg.
By Sandy Vondrasek

Last March, voters in Braintree, Brookfield, and Randolph took a historic step and agreed to merge their respective school districts into one—the Orange Southwest School District (OSSD), which will commence formal operations on July 1 of this year.

More history occurred Monday evening when five school boards— the elementary boards from each of the three towns, plus the Randolph Union High School Board and the Orange Southwest Supervisory Union (OSSU) Board—held what will mostly likely be their last meetings. In a tidy gesture, each of the boards approved the minutes for that night’s meeting just before adjournment.

When voters overwhelmingly ap- proved the merger plan last spring, they also elected an eight-member OSSD board to govern the new district, with four members from Randolph, and two each from Braintree and Brookfield. Over the past year, this “unified board” has gradually assumed more responsibility, as it gears up to manage all the schools in the three towns.

This week, Angelo Odato, chair of the OSSD Board, said the only reason that one or more of the older boards might convene a special meeting in the next few months would be for a school-specific issue, such as a sudden need to hire a full-time substitute or another such unexpected need.

Last month, the OSSD Board approved a proposed $16.3-million budget for the merged district— which will be voted on by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day. The budget represents a 1.86% ($297,068) increase over the current, combined budgets for RUHS and the three elementary schools.

The board also approved a $2.9-million budget for Randolph Technical Career Center, down 2.2% ($76,790) from current-year spending. This week, OSSU Supt. Brent Kay commented that “bringing together” the five budgets (those for RUHS, OSSU, and the elementary budgets in the three towns) proved to be a complex task, despite the high degree of collaboration among the boards over the past dozen years.

The good news, he said is that the unified budget creates “a real increase in transparency—it puts everything in one place where everyone can see it.”

When the five budgets are combined with the RTCC budget (which will not be voted on) total proposed education spending in three towns is up 1.2% ($229,278).

That low increase, around the inflation rate, Kay said, “is really because our boards work so well together.”

Kay noted that over the last 10 years, OSSU budgets have increased annually, on average, by less than one-half of one percent (.45%), well below the statewide average yearly increase of 4.35%.

New for Voters

With the merger heading toward its July 1 start-up, changes are in store for voters in the three towns in the coming month.

This year, there will be no annual school meeting on Town Meeting Day in each of the three towns, as has traditionally been the case.

That will be an especially big change for Braintree, which had maintained the tradition of an annual school meeting at which all articles—including budget approval and board member elections— were handled on the floor.

Instead, voters from all three towns will be invited to attend the first annual meeting of the Orange Southwest School District the evening of Monday, March 6. At this 6 p.m. meeting at RUHS’s Murray Auditorium, voters will take up about half of the articles on the warning. These will include items such as electing a moderator, clerk, and treasurer for the OSSD, and “to hear and act on the reports of the officers of the school district.”

The following day, Tuesday, March 7, polls will be open all day in each of the three towns for voting on the proposed $16.3-million budget to operate four schools (the three elementary schools and RUHS). In a shift from past years, voters will no longer be asked to approve the RTCC budget.

The ballots will also contain another three articles regarding placement of an audited surplus of $640,336 from FY15-16 into reserve funds, plus two more—to elect one board member each from Randolph and Braintree. (Incumbents Anne Howard of Braintree and Anne Black Cone of Randolph are seeking re-election.)

Voters will cast their ballots in polling places in their respective towns, but all will be given the same ballot.

In the week prior to the annual meeting and budget vote, there will be informational hearings on the merged budget in each of the three towns, as follows:

• February 28 in Brookfield,

• March 1 in Braintree, and

• March 2 in Randolph.

Each will be held in the town’s elementary school and each will begin at 7 p.m.

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