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Easthampton residents weigh in on proposed property tax override for the schools

Questions raised at last week’s public forum on a proposed $1.4 million property tax override for the schools focused on how the schools will spend the added tax funds and why an override is needed now.

An eight-member panel of school leaders, administrators, teachers, Mayor Michael A. Tautznik and members of the Committee for Stronger Schools fielded questions from the audience of about 20 that gathered at the Oct. 2 forum at school headquarters.

Panelist Marin Goldstein, a school parent and member of the pro-override committee, said increasing school funds “is a hot topic happening all over the country.”

“This town has made good choices for education,” he added, citing a debt-exclusion override voters overwhelmingly approved two years ago to fund a new high school. “The question now is, are we going to have the teachers and resources to fill that high school?”

In July, City Council agreed to put an override question on the ballot for Nov. 6. School leaders have said the $1.4 million called for in Question 4 is needed to restore cuts in teacher positions and special education programs, and to invest in technology upgrades and world languages starting in the elementary grades.

“These are valid needs,” Tautznik said. “This really is a district that just needs a little bit more to provide a top-notch education. It’s a question of whether voters can afford it.”

Joe Farrick, who described himself as a disabled veteran, said he and others on fixed incomes cannot afford the added $250 or so a year the override would cost. “Treading water is better than drowning,” he said. “And a lot of us are drowning right now.”

Figures from the mayor’s office show the impact of the override would be $1 for each $1,000 of assessed property value in Easthampton if the measure is approved next month. For the average home price of $228,000, the cost would be $228 annually.

School Committee member Deborah Lusnia, who was also on the panel, said Farrick’s views are “probably shared by a lot of people out there in Easthampton.”

She stressed that the consequences of not passing the override could be “expensive” for the city schools. “Currently, we are losing $1.4 million to school choice and charter schools,” she said. “If we don’t invest in our schools, that cost is going to continue, which puts a greater burden on the taxpayers.”

Other questions centered on exactly how the schools plan to spend funds on technology and why school leaders decided to ask for money for new programs as well as for restoring cuts.

“We are responding to what our community members are telling us in surveys,” said Superintendent Nancy Follansbee. She noted that world languages and technology were two of the issues cited by parents whose children are attending schools outside the district.

One of the last to comment was Katy Berube, a reading teacher at Maple School whose two children graduated from Easthampton schools. She called on the public to support the override.

“This is an opportunity to have a little more help, a few more tools,” she said. “I’m going to be here till I’m 80, so go ahead and tax me! Let’s invest in our community.”

Chemistry Adventure

The Emily Williston Memorial Library is hosting a Passport to Chemistry Adventure program on Oct. 17 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the library on Park Street. Chemistry experts from Mount Holyoke College will demonstrate how sheets of polymers can shrink when heated. The program is designed for children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Space is limited. To sign up, call 529-1605.

‘Rumors: A Farce’

Neil Simon’s comedy “Rumors: A Farce” will be performed at Williston Northampton next week. Showtimes are Oct. 18 to 20, 25 and 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 26 at 8 p.m. in the Williston Theater on Payson Avenue. The play pokes fun at the world of upper-class New Yorkers. Tickets are $7 for students and seniors and $10 for adults. Williston staff and students are admitted free.

Run for Kids

The Northeast Center for Youth and Families is sponsoring its second annual Run For Kids Oct. 20 starting at the Tri-County School on East Street. The entry fee is $26 and registration begins at 8 a.m. The walk begins at 9:45 a.m., the 5K Run at 10 a.m. and the Kids Fun Run at 11 a.m. The route will follow the scenic Manhan Rail Trail. Prizes will be given and a pasta lunch will be served free to all registered participants. Proceeds will benefit the Northeast Center, which offers children and teens foster care, therapy, after-school and other services. For information, contact Suzanne Welch, 529-7278.

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