By Hiroko Sato
GROTON -- Sarah Anderson moved to Groton because of the School District's reputation. And she wouldn't mind paying a little extra in taxes to keep a good educational system for her three children, including twins in kindergarten and a first-grader.
"I feel the tax rate increase is fair based on the deficit that the School District is facing," Anderson said Tuesday after she voted for the referendum to pay for the new fire station construction through a debt exclusion, to make room in the town's budget for additional school funding.
The quality of the school system is equally important to Richard Baldwin, a Groton resident of 30 years, whose children are in their mid-30s, because prospective buyers of his home would mostly likely have children. Keeping the town known for quality education makes his house desirable, Baldwin said.
Many other voters shared Anderson's and Baldwin's sentiments Tuesday. The proposal to pay for the $7.7 million the town has borrowed for the Center Fire Station project through a debt exclusion passed, 1,479 to 579, allowing the town to provide an additional $1.4 million to the School District in fiscal 2015. The school-budget shortfall stemmed from a combination of accounting errors, reductions in federal funding and an increase in special-education costs, school officials have said. Voter turnout was 26.7 percent.
Some voters expressed concerns for the School District's ability to monitor its spending and opposed the referendum question, proposed by selectmen.
Resident Brad Latario, said he believed the School District should not ask taxpayers to pay extra to cover its accounting errors.
"You cannot grab money (meant) for something else," Latario said.
"We were kind of pushed into a corner" to pay for it, resident Matt Novak said about the errors. He voted for the referendum to help maintain the quality of education.
"Sometimes you've got to deal with it," he said.
"Our tax is going up one way or another," said Novak's wife, Lorena Novak.
"I think it's great. I think it speaks to the commitment the people in the town have to education," said Selectman Jack Petropoulos, who has attended some public forums to explain the details of the debt exclusion proposal to the voters, when reached by The Sun by phone Tuesday night.
"I am very happy to hear there was such great voter turnout," Groton-Dunstable Regional School District Committee Chairwoman Alison Manugian said in an email. "I'm pleased with the results of today's ballot. Because of the results, voters at Town Meeting will have the opportunity to provide funding for the municipal and school budget needs. Securing the requested funding for FY15 will prevent additional cuts to our school district."
Selectmen Chairman Peter Cunningham said the fact that 70 percent of those who hit the polls voted for the referendum was "impressive." He noted that a local parents group had organized supports for the referendum, urging people to come out and vote. He also said people may be more open to a debt exclusion -- which allows the town to increase residents' property taxes beyond the annual levy increase limit of 2.5 percent temporarily until the debt is paid off -- than a tax override.
"I am very happy that's the way it worked out," Cunningham said.
The discussion about the school budget is far from over, however. Dunstable Selectman Walter Alterisio said Tuesday night Dunstable would need to propose a tax override to comply to pay its share for the school budget should Town Meeting approves the spending plan in May. He said the School Committee has the option to reduce the budget and he hopes the committee will work with selectmen.