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Lobbying on override question goes down to the wire

  • Claire Williams, a volunteer for Yes!Northampton, makes a call Tuesday during a phone bank held at Goggins Real Estate in Florence.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Claire Williams, a volunteer for Yes!Northampton, makes a call Tuesday during a phone bank held at Goggins Real Estate in Florence.
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  • Monica Green, a volunteer for Yes!Northampton, makes a call Tuesday from a phone bank at Goggins Real Estate in Florence.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Monica Green, a volunteer for Yes!Northampton, makes a call Tuesday from a phone bank at Goggins Real Estate in Florence.




    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • With schools standing to lose the most with the outcome of the Proposition 2½ override vote Tuesday, many volunteers for the Yes!Northampton campaign are parents or others connected to the schools. Here, Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela Schwartz, a parent of three Northampton schools students, makes calls beside volunteers Stephanie Pick, school committee member,  background left, and Claire Williams at a phone bank at Goggins Real Estate in Florence on Tuesday.<br/><br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    With schools standing to lose the most with the outcome of the Proposition 2½ override vote Tuesday, many volunteers for the Yes!Northampton campaign are parents or others connected to the schools. Here, Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela Schwartz, a parent of three Northampton schools students, makes calls beside volunteers Stephanie Pick, school committee member, background left, and Claire Williams at a phone bank at Goggins Real Estate in Florence on Tuesday.


    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene Tacy speaks against the Northampton Proposition 2 1/2 override during a forum hosted by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Wednesday at Bridge Street School.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene Tacy speaks against the Northampton Proposition 2 1/2 override during a forum hosted by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Wednesday at Bridge Street School.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Claire Williams, a volunteer for Yes!Northampton, makes a call Tuesday during a phone bank held at Goggins Real Estate in Florence.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Monica Green, a volunteer for Yes!Northampton, makes a call Tuesday from a phone bank at Goggins Real Estate in Florence.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • With schools standing to lose the most with the outcome of the Proposition 2½ override vote Tuesday, many volunteers for the Yes!Northampton campaign are parents or others connected to the schools. Here, Ward 4 City Councilor Pamela Schwartz, a parent of three Northampton schools students, makes calls beside volunteers Stephanie Pick, school committee member,  background left, and Claire Williams at a phone bank at Goggins Real Estate in Florence on Tuesday.<br/><br/><br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene Tacy speaks against the Northampton Proposition 2 1/2 override during a forum hosted by the Ward 3 Neighborhood Association Wednesday at Bridge Street School.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

They’ve canvassed neighborhoods, talked to homeowners or dropped off fliers — all in an effort to make their case for a yes vote on Tuesday’s $2.5 million Proposition 2½ override request.

While not as visible, a newly formed opposition group is doing what it can to make up for lost time through a less organized but equally impassioned plea for a no vote.

Now it’s time for the voters to be heard. On Tuesday, voters from one end of the city to the other will head to the polls and provide a simple up or down vote on the city’s override request.

While they disagree on many points, people on both sides of the issue concur that the outcome is very much in doubt.

Ward 6 City Councilor Marianne L. LaBarge, a veteran of local politics and the council’s longest-standing member, thinks the vote will be close.

“Even people with money are saying enough is enough,” LaBarge said. “It has divided this city worse than in 2009. People are just fed up. They are saying ‘I’m out of here’ if this passes, and I believe them.”

For weeks, the 200-plus volunteers at Yes!Northampton have combined time-tested campaigning methods with social media to identify and inform potential voters about the issue.

The campaign volunteers, divided by ward and spread across all age brackets from teens to senior citizens, have been canvassing neighborhoods, manning phone banks, planting lawn signs, holding fundraisers and ramping up visibility in the closing days.

As of Friday, the campaign had identified 5,864 people, with some 4,140 indicating they would cast a yes vote.

“It’s really inspiring what this campaign has generated and it really is a testimony to the community,” said Pamela Schwartz, who helped found Yes!Northampton four years ago. The group played a big role in helping pass the city’s last general override request of $2 million in 2009.

The strategies Yes!Northampton employs are not new, but they are effective. Schwartz said the group handed out 150 homemade lawn signs some time ago, and purchased at least 150 more signs at stores to meet the demand.

The phone banks are among the most important ways Yes!Northampton reaches people. Each ward captain organized the phone calling for that jurisdiction, and volunteers agreed to make calls in two-hour stints for five weeks leading up to the election.

The group also has a website and Facebook page and is using social media as a way to stay connected.

Catherine Kay, the group’s treasurer, describes the campaign as one of “information and inspiration.” By informing people who may not follow the issue about why the city is in such dire straits, Kay believes many will be inspired to vote yes.

The number of supporters willing to give up so much of their time in this effort is also inspiring, she said.

“I think it’s an indication of the significance of the issue in people’s lives,” Kay said.

While her three children are no longer in school, Kay said she has watched cuts affect the schools for far too long. That’s part of the reason why she stepped up her volunteer efforts this spring.

“The thought of even more cuts to kids coming through now is unimaginable,” she said. “It’s so important for people to make sure the override passes.”

The group also held court at farmer’s markets, the transfer station, and other events, including the Gay Pride march and fundraisers, such as a benefit concert featuring The Nields that drew 500 people.

Other strategies included handing out fliers at doors throughout the city and paying for an ad in the Daily Hampshire Gazette that had more than 400 signatures.

“Virtually every aspect of a grassroots campaign is being expressed in this campaign,” Schwartz said.

Informal ‘no’ campaign

While they haven’t created a formal organization to make their case, a number of residents who oppose the override started gathering two weeks ago. Some of them were visible and outspoken at last week’s override forum outside Bridge Street School.

Other opponents believe they have a silent majority that will help them prevail at the polls. These people are worried about property tax increases but not comfortable speaking up for fear of being labeled anti-city or anti-schools.

Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy, an outspoken opponent of the override, has been asked several times this spring to lead an official “no” campaign, but that’s a task he wasn’t comfortable taking on.

Even without an aggressive and ambitious campaign, Tacy believes the measure will fail because too many voters are feeling a financial squeeze right now.

“I tell you, people are taking it upon themselves” to talk to each other, Tacy said.

Resident William Rakaska, a member of the no group, acknowledges that opponents don’t have the funds or organizational structure that the Yes! group has. But that doesn’t mean opponents aren’t equally passionate about their positions that the city is not living within its means and that tax increases are something many of them can’t afford to keep paying.

“I’ve never seen such a money-hungry city,” Rakaska said. “They reach into our pockets and we have no defense.”

To get the word out, opponents have flocked to City Council meetings to state their case before the council and its television audience. Like supporters, they are talking to each other and most recently said they planned to canvass their neighborhoods by foot and by phone.

“We started a couple weeks ago, mainly out of frustration,” Rakaska said.

The Ward 6 resident said he repaired some 50 “Vote No” signs used in past override campaigns in 2009 and 2004, and made two dozen additional signs on his own. Nearly all of the signs are on display throughout the city. Rakaska has also installed a large sign on the back of his pickup urging people to vote against the override.

Despite this momentum, many override supporters say they are more nervous about the outcome of this override question than the one in 2009.

“I was convinced it would win in 2009, but this time I think it’s going to be close,” said Alex Ghiselin, a Ward 5 captain for Yes!Northampton.

Though he never had children in the school system, Ghiselin is donating his time to educate undecided voters about the issue because he is a staunch supporter of funding public education.

“Public education was amazingly important in my life,” he said. “The schools were a refuge for me and for a lot of other people.”

Many opponents like Rakaska point out that in the past the city has painted a worst-case scenario only to find a pot of money at the last minute.

“The whole point is enough is enough,” Rakaska said. “I’m hoping that the count is close and that we defeat it.”

Related

Busing cuts at Northampton High School cited as key impact of override vote

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — For Mercedes Diaz, a junior at Northampton High School, the outcome of Tuesday’s vote on a proposed property tax override could mean the difference between getting to school and not getting there. Diaz, who has been riding the bus to school since she was in kindergarten, said she’s not sure how she will get from her home in …

Legacy Comments18

Apparently, YES! is worried about vacations and camp interfering with their get out the vote effort! Unfortunately, the reality here is that people are struggling to buy groceries, pay for health care, and cover their mortgages. http://www.foodbankwma.org/learn/local-hunger-facts/ As I just wrote to YES! and others, some folks might just want to consider private schools. One size does NOT fit all and public schools are of course publicly funded. The Food Bank of Western Mass – Local Hunger Facts www.foodbankwma.org

A few more facts to support your facts; Times are still so tight for struggling Americans, 76% live paycheck-to-paycheck, 24% do not have enough savings to cover 6 months' expenses, and 27% have no savings at all. To increase additional taxes on families already struggling, is irresponsible and will cause more harm to many more children and their families than if this override does not pass.

And I heartily second that, Theresa. Before you all vote tomorrow, please remember three things: Just like four years ago, this override is all about public safety and the schools, or so they say; Just like four years ago, by law, they can and will use the funds for absolutely ANYTHING; And just like four years ago, this property tax override is FOREVER. Buyer beware. For the sake of ALL of Northampton vote no.

And what have you done for Northampton lately?

Do you mean me? I stuck my neck out and ran for office, among other things; I volunteer; I participate in government; and I advocate for the benefit of all, not just the privileged. Am I perfect? Not a chance!!! But I pay attention, I ask questions, and I participate. I try.

Of course I mean you. You've done all that for Northampton and you still think that the call for local support of the schools and public safety is a ruse by "them," our elected leaders? I, too, have volunteered for the schools, the DPW, and the Rec Department. Seeing first-hand how hard the people who work full-time in those places try to operate within their means and still fall short on funds is a big part of the reason I'm voting Yes. PTO groups throughout the system yearn to fund teaching positions, but that's one thing they can't do. Personnel costs *must* be borne by the School Department's budget, which suffers the limitations of the city's budget. The *state* has failed us, not our city leaders. In the meantime, given a choice between paying local taxes and state taxes, I feel better about paying local taxes, because I know they stay here in my community. Sent to the state coffers, they may end up.... 'neath the streets of Boston, and they'll never return. Thank you, by the way, for volunteering - it's important for citizens to contribute.

Okay. Do people really believe that it's the Mayor's job to micromanage school bus schedules? If he were using his time like that to do someone else's job, then criticism might be warranted, because he wouldn't have time to do what a mayor is supposed to do.

Well, apparently the School buses are at the center of his reason for passing this override. Does he need to micromanage, no, but he is held accountable.

You're citing a poorly-worded newspaper headline, not the Mayor's words. Again. How does a headline like that suddenly become gospel truth for you? Note that the article itself was written with the good intention of pointing out that for *some* students, busing makes all the difference to their ability to attend school. But the headline's wording overemphasized the issue's level of priority relative to all of the other issues at stake. That's it. Why does the Mayor have to be held accountable for a journalistic inaccuracy?

The Mayor HIMSELF said IN HIS OWN WORDS that busing is not the central issue. Some people are so angry that things like facts and reason are meaningless to them. They just want to be pissed off and they're taking it out on the wrong people. This is the last time I'll get to say this: this is a state issue - it is not city mismanagement, it is not "wasteful spending", it is not bus routes, it is not park benches, it is not cop cars, it is not boathouses, it is not railtrail artwork. This is a state issue allocation issue. You are not going to nitpick your way out of this by filling a bus. Or swapping cop cars. Or rejecting grant money. Sadly, we middle class folks have been left holding the bag and the choice is: do we have the courage to save ourselves or are we just going to slink further and further toward oblivion? This is a tough choice for a lot of people and the no matter which way the vote falls tonight, there are going to be some people who are going to be hurt by this.

Can anyone figure this out for me? In the FY 2014 budget for NHS it says that discontinuing bus service will save the budget $70,000. There are approx 242 students who use the bus. I think they each pay $300/yr to get a NHS bus pass...which more than pays for the $70,000 bus cost the school says it will be saving. ??

Very good question. Another question; Considering the buses are not filled to capacity and on some routes not even half full, what has the transportation department and school committee as well as the mayor done to see the feasibility in consolidating and changing the routes to decrease the amount of buses needed. Clearly the Mayor when using the children and busing as his trademark to influence voters, did not think it through. Apparently, he must believe the residents of Northampton are not resourceful and did not give them enough credit that they would question him. It is much easier for him to ask the residents of Northampton to sacrifice and step up, but once again he demonstrates his ineffectiveness to think outside the box and unwillingness to do so.

Why do you continually make assumptions about what has and hasn't been done or thought about or considered when you have ZERO information to back it up? All I ever see from you is conjecture, never any facts at all. How do you know the mayor didn't "think it through"? Are you involved in bus route planning? Are you on the city council or school board? Why do you assume the mayor is unwilling to "think outside the box"? Have you contacted him with all of your brilliant ideas about bus routes, only to have them rebuffed? I'm just curious, because you seem to know exactly what the mayor does and thinks.

An easy one to answer; common sense. Had he promoted these ideas he would have said so, it would be logical, and used as a tool to promote the override - meaning he would have exhausted all options before adding more tax burden to the residents. Instead he went for an increase the taxes via an override. Those facts speak for themselves. Did he or the prior Mayor before him show any action re-assessing the tax exemption status of Smith College? His inactions speak for themselves. No, I didn't and should not have to contact him these ideas, as mayor he should have thought of this on his own, it is his job.

Who says it costs only $300 to bus a student? I don't know how much the School Department/city ends up paying the bus company per student on average, do you? Yes, families pay roughly $300 to bus a single NHS student. If the city is also paying roughly $300/student, then.... maybe the city is splitting the cost with families 50/50 and it adds up to about $600/student total. Also, I note that your comment appears to respond to the "related" story with the bogus headline about busing cuts being the "key impact" of the override vote. As far as I can tell, the Gazette writer who composed the headline is solely responsible for the raging confusion about the schools' priorities among the various cuts at stake. Of course maintaining quality educational opportunities for all students is the true "key impact" of this decision! Please don't penalize our students because of one writer's poor choice of phrasing.

breathe for a sec, tmag. I am taking my info from the budget and it says that the school will save $70,000 by discontinuing the bus service. I am questioning it because it seems to me that if everyone's $300 is added it equals approx $70,000. So why say that bus service is being taken away if it is paid for by parents? I bet you are correct with the idea of a 50/50 split cost, and it does cost $140,000 for 242 students to be driven to school for 180 days I understand why they would save $70,000. Thank you for possibly clarifying that for me.

Yes, it's all very complex and very confusing. I hope that my thought about the $600/student cost of busing didn't seem to you like a rant. I do confess to being frustrated with the verbal "wildfire" that the Gazette's headline has sparked in these last few days. Any ranting tone in that part of my message was not directed at you personally. The writer of that headline just added to the confusion. No one in our community needs that, I think all can agree.

we're good tmag! it's hard to make everyone happy. I'm pleased that we get to vote on this!

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