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Campaign for schools override gets under way in Easthampton

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Rosie Marks, 4, from left, Lucas Marks, 6, and Nathaniel Marks, 10, make signs to hold during a rally Tuesday at Pulaski Park in support of a 2 1/2 percent override to fund Easthampton schools.

    JERREY ROBERTS
    Rosie Marks, 4, from left, Lucas Marks, 6, and Nathaniel Marks, 10, make signs to hold during a rally Tuesday at Pulaski Park in support of a 2 1/2 percent override to fund Easthampton schools. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Pilar Goldstein-Dea and her son, Oisin, 5, hold signs Tuesday during a rally at Pulaski Park in support of the 2 1/2 percent tax override to fund Easthampton schools.

    JERREY ROBERTS
    Pilar Goldstein-Dea and her son, Oisin, 5, hold signs Tuesday during a rally at Pulaski Park in support of the 2 1/2 percent tax override to fund Easthampton schools. Purchase photo reprints »

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Rosie Marks, 4, from left, Lucas Marks, 6, and Nathaniel Marks, 10, make signs to hold during a rally Tuesday at Pulaski Park in support of a 2 1/2 percent override to fund Easthampton schools.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Pilar Goldstein-Dea and her son, Oisin, 5, hold signs Tuesday during a rally at Pulaski Park in support of the 2 1/2 percent tax override to fund Easthampton schools.

“I’m here because of him,” she said.

Goldstein-Dea was among a dozen or more supporters of a proposed $1.4 million property tax override for the city schools who gathered for a sign-waving kickoff event at downtown’s busy traffic circle.

The rally, sponsored by the Committee for Stronger Schools, featured homemade signs urging residents to “Vote Yes” and “Honk Yes” for the override question, which city voters will decide Nov. 6.

“This is about making an investment in education at a time when everyone is getting squeezed financially,” said Ingrid Flory, one of about 20 override supporters who turned out for the rally.

“My opinion is, we can’t afford not to do this for our schools,” said Flory, whose family has lived in Easthampton for more than a decade.

Goldstein-Dea, whose family moved to Easthampton from Somerville last year, said she got involved in the effort because she believes the needs of the local schools are going unmet.

“My little boy goes to Maple School and he was complaining to me that he didn’t have computers to do a math project,” she said. “Our kids deserve more and our teachers deserve more. Our schools deserve to be a priority.”

Tuesday’s rally was the first public event the Committee for Stronger Schools has organized since the City Council decided in July to place a $1.4 million property tax override before the voters. Organizers say more will follow in the leadup to the Nov. 6 balloting.

So far, no formal opposition to the override has emerged.

If approved by voters, the override question, which is #4 on the ballot, would add $1 to each $1,000 of assessed property value in Easthampton. That means a resident with a home valued at $250,000 would pay an additional $250 per year in taxes.

School leaders have said the funds are needed to restore cuts in staff and programs made to balance this year’s $17.08 million school budget and for needed upgrades in technology and curriculum.

“The override is what will move us from the schools we have to the schools we need,” said Superintendent Nancy Follansbee who was at Tuesday’s rally, along with Mayor Michael A. Tautznik. “We also want to ensure that parents want to send their students to the Easthampton schools and we remain competitive with other districts.”

Of the $1.4 million proposed for the override, school leaders say $822,456 would be used to restore teacher positions and reductions made this year in special education programs. Another $585,000 would be used for technology improvements and to add world languages instruction starting in the elementary grades.

Tautznik said the override is a way to address what he called “a fundamental flaw in education funding in Massachusetts.”

He noted that the city spends about $1.4 million — the same amount called for in the override — on tuition for Easthampton students attending charter schools and other schools through school choice.

“That’s money taken out of our hands and not of our wishes,” Tautznik said. “This is an opportunity to make that right.”

Support for overrides in Easthampton has historically been mixed. In 2004, voters overwhelmingly rejected an $874,000 override for school and municipal services. By contrast, two years ago, voters backed an $18 million debt-exclusion override to pay for a new high school by a nearly 3-1 margin.

When asked what the biggest challenge supporters of the current override proposal face, Kelly Marks — whose husband Peter Marks, is chair of the Committee for Stronger Schools — said educating the public about what more funds would mean for the schools.

“A lot of people think we’re doing this just to get teachers more money,” said Marks, as she supervised the sign-making efforts of her three children in the park near the rotary. “But we’ve had 30 teachers who were cut in the last several years.”

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