Students leave Ralph C. Mahar Regional School in Orange.
ORANGE — In advance of an April 14 vote, the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District School Committee held a virtual hearing Thursday on a proposed $14.8 million budget that includes contractually-obligated increases, instructional technology changes and expanded sports offerings.
Michele Tontodonato, the district’s director of finance and operations, explained residents of the four members towns will be asked at their respective Annual Town Meetings to adopt the proposed fiscal year 2023 budget, which currently entails a 4.1% increase over the present fiscal year’s figures. Tontodonato noted that budgets are “living documents” and some items such as health insurance costs are not yet finalized.
Among changes, there is a proposed $84,486 increase for the Mahar Athletics Department, reflected primarily in $21,543 in contract increases for coaches, a $25,638 bus contract increase and a $14,573 bump for supplies. Tontodonato said middle school sports had previously been axed due to budget cuts.
“What we did this year was we brought in one girls and boys middle school sport per season. We used ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds to pay for them and our goal is to work the middle school sports … back into the general fund,” she said. “So we moved a third of it in for next year, as our plan.”
She also said Athletic Director Jim Woodward decided to add a football cheerleading team “because the main expense in that is coaching salary, and we decided we could afford it.”
The finance and operations director also laid out the assessments of the four member towns — Orange, New Salem, Wendell and Petersham. She said Orange’s initial assessment is around $5.16 million (up by $239,010) the one for New Salem is $717,167 (up by $24,127), Wendell’s is $560,428 (up by $78,949), and Petersham’s is about $1.07 million (up by $181,786). Overall student enrollment is down from 611 to 575 because, though Petersham’s number of students increased by six and Wendell’s stayed the same, Orange’s decreased by 39 and New Salem’s fell by three.
In a phone interview earlier this week, Tontodonato said the 4.1% hike in the budget also involves contractually-obligated increases pertaining to the school district’s bus contractor, Swift River Bus Co., and to school staff. Tontodonato said this translates to a proposed $119,080 difference, between the contract increase and a second morning bus that will be required to transport students to school for MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) testing for seven to eight days during the academic year.
She also said the current fiscal year’s $15,518 for business office software agreements is expected to increase to $32,900 because Mahar might add some educational software.
“We review all the software agreements we have each year,” she said.
Additionally, Tontodonato noted the rate agreement with the company Mahar uses for heating oil is increasing from $126,250 to $146,250.
The Mahar School Committee is slated to vote on the proposed budget at its April 14 meeting. After that, under the current district agreement, at least three of the district’s four member towns must individually pass the budget at their respective Annual Town Meetings for it to be adopted.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.
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