In Essex, Whitman Wins School Committee, MERSD Override Fails


At Monday's election, Essex voters were split on two Proposition 2½ overrides—rejecting a proposed $289,165 MERSD override while approving a $56,186 override for the town's regional technical school budget—while also narrowly voting in the school committee chairman, Theresa Whitman, to a second term on the Regional School District School Committee.    

Polls opened at 7 a.m. Monday at the Essex Public Safety Building.  Nine hundred voters, or 30.83% of the town's 2919 total registered voters, showed up to vote on a ballot that—besides the race for one School Committee seat and the two Proposition 2½ overrides—was nearly entirely comprised of uncontested seats.

For Manchester Essex Regional School Committee, incumbent Theresa Whitman secured re-election for a three-year term, winning by just 18 votes (439 to 421) over challenger Nina McKinnon, who, as a member of the Finance Committee, promised to bring what she said was needed transparency to the district budgeting process.  McKinnon also said if elected, she would support a rollback on "level services" to last year's budget when the school district cut two programs—middle school language and late bus service—to deliver a budget supported last year by voters in Essex.  

Going into Monday's election, voters were asked to ratify a total of $345,351 in Proposition 2½ overrides to address a “reset” in funding for Manchester Essex Regional School District and the annual assessment for Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School students that were approved by Annual Town Meeting voters last week. 

Essex voters split these.  First, they approved (529 to 363) an override of $56,186 for the town’s share of the Essex North Shore Agricultural and Technical School District’s FY24 budget.  Then, they failed to approve (388 to 507) the more significant $289,165 override that would have bridged the gap and approved Essex's $9.3 million apportionment for the FY24 MERSD budget.

Essex FinCom Chair Benjamin Buttrick told voters at Town Meeting last week that the school district’s planned discontinuance of using reserve funds as a source for operations was a significant reason for the MERSD override.  He said Essex’s share of the district budget—determined in part by enrollment—has been escalating by about five percent annually in recent years because the proportion of children from Manchester in the school district has been declining. 

“This is a structural issue,” said Buttrick.

Going into Town Meeting, MERSD had produced $780K in cuts and savings as it finalized its FY24 budget.  Whitman, chair of the ME Regional School Committee, told residents the district was fortunate to find efficiencies that respond to fiscal concerns—especially for Essex, which spends 44.86% of its annual budget, exclusive of debt, on education—while also responding to residents demanding level services associated with a top school district.  

Now that the override has failed with voters at the polls, the School Committee has 30 days to determine whether the apportionments (for both towns) will be reduced, or it may keep its original budget.  If the budget can be reduced by the amount asked for in the override, nothing more is needed from voters since the budget without the override amount was approved at Town Meeting. 

However, the committee may not reduce its budget.  In that case, Essex will have to bring whatever override is being asked for again to voters at a Special Town Meeting, which would take a minimum of 14 days to organize, followed by a special town election.

In other results Monday, the following uncontested races for Essex seats were decided:

  • Stephen Poulos won a three-year seat on the Board of Assessors
  • Jeffrey Jones won a three-year term as Town Moderator
  • Alva Ingaharro won a three-year seat on the Board of Selectmen
  • David Driscoll won a three-year term on the Board of Health
  • Gordon Thompson, Jr, for five years as Housing Authority member
  • Simone Early and Peter Levasseur each secured five-year seats on the Planning Board
  • Judson Lane and Jay Tetzloff each secured one-year seats on the Planning Board