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Promoting education, awareness and support for override

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With the critical override for North Middlesex Schools approaching quickly, we are putting forth all our efforts in preparation. With the huge problem of many citizens not being aware of the override taking place on Aug. 28, the major goal for our community is to inform the public about the override and the impacts North Middlesex schools could feel without it. Without the override, it is possible that classroom sizes will surge, foreign languages will be eliminated, and the elementary schools will be required to drop specials like art, music, and computers, as well as increase the number of fees for parents. Most importantly, this will not resolve the issue of having an unfunded operating budget. The North Middlesex School Committee will once again propose another budget; if this budget goes unfunded, we will lose fiscal control to the state. The State of Massachusetts, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education working with the State Commissioners Office will mandate the funding of an operating budget to the towns of the North Middlesex School District. This will most likely be similar or higher than what is currently on the table for the override. At this point, the towns will need to fund the mandated budget, which will result in either cuts to town services, monies from our E&D account, or another townwide override vote.

To help promote awareness, we are asking all residents of Ashby, Pepperell, and Townsend to break out their creative side to design and proudly display a lawn sign highlighting the importance of this vote. Dedicated citizens are distributing fliers at local town events and businesses; we will be hosting a tent on Election Day to educate, shake-hands, and greet the registered voters of our district.

On Monday, Aug. 20, the North Middlesex School Committee was to once again discuss the upcoming override election and the potential impact to the staffing patterns at all of our schools. If you haven’t had an opportunity to attend a school committee meeting this summer, I recommend checking out the Charter Public Access channel (Channel 15 in Pepperell) or view their schedule to see when the previously recorded sessions are taking place http://www.pepperellchannel.org/Schedule%20Web%20Page.html#Thursday.

Along with our towns working hard to promote awareness of how this override could control the future of our school system, supportive residents have been distributing information to their neighborhoods and at local events throughout the North Middlesex school district.

At the previous school committee meetings and at the Town Halls, our superintendent spoke about the cuts in previous years and how we have been rolling over each year on a level-funded budget.

These cuts were the result of significant reduction in Federal and State funding due to the economic constraints. At the same time, the costs due to federal and state mandates are increasing, — these unfunded mandates are services the schools are required to provide by federal and state regulations. The federal and state governments do not provide money to help pay for these mandated services, which can make funding for other non-mandated costs difficult to obtain. One of the big mandated costs in North Middlesex School District is Special Education.

If the override fails, there are many cuts and potential fee regulations that will be taking place. On Monday, Aug. 20 , Superintendent Joan Landers was to review the impact we may see on classroom sizes, programming, teacher and administration headcount, and the potential increase in our unemployment costs.

In addition, many parents may choose to choice out of the district, which we have seen as a trend. If this is the case, our district expenses increase as monies are transferred to the district where that child goes. If the override fails, there will be impact to key staffing positions which may deter the progress being made to maintain our accreditation. For families with children in the school system, especially current high school students, this override is very important.

Ken Taylor, a parent in our district with children attending North Middlesex schools, supports this override. Ken states, “When I talk to people who are against the override, there is consistently a lack of knowledge or desire to learn. All they care about is taxes going up. The only sources of information they listen to are those that already confirm what they believe. “Taxes are evil and bad. The schools cost too much. Lazy teachers always want more. I don’t have any kids, why should I pay. I’m on a fixed income.”

“For each of these I have answers. Without taxes we wouldn’t have any town services not just schools. Our schools are among the most cost-effective in the state.” “The teachers didn’t take a raise. Someone paid for your education; it’s your turn to pay. I don’t know anyone who isn’t on a fixed income, it’s not like I can get a raise any time I want.”

“Let’s take a look at property values. As the school district declines in effectiveness, the value of our property will decline. And to those that say “Well, I don’t plan on selling.” Great, I’m happy for you, I don’t plan on moving either, but declining property values equal declining town revenues. And that leads to more cuts, which lead to lower property values and so on. Not to mention that when our school budget gets slashed again and again, parents take their kids out and put them in different, more expensive schools, which we have to pay for.

“We all pay for services in our towns we don’t use. That’s what adults do. We realize that although we personally might not have a need for a service or facility, someone else does. That’s what a community is. There’s a document I love that has these words in it: “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.” I wish more people believed in that document and understood we are all in the same boat.”

The School Committee meetings and the local grassroots efforts of passing the word to your neighbor will help the goal of spreading awareness at how essential this override is to North Middlesex schools’ quality of education.

We are doing everything in our power to gain support to pass the override; the outcome is not determined by our elected officials. It is up to the citizens of Ashby, Pepperell and Townsend.

As a community, the voters control the future of the school system — everyone should have their voices heard and vote for what they think is the best decision on this critical issue. If we choose not to participate or collaborate for a solution, the State will be happy to mandate the solution for us.

What is this override going to cost us per town?

Ashby:

It will cost $56 per every one-hundred thousand of your house valuation. For example, the average house valuation in Ashby is $212,281. This would incur an increase of $121 dollars/year, or $10.08/month.

Pepperell:

It will cost $33 per every one-hundred thousand of your house valuation. For example, the average house valuation in Pepperell is $300,000. This would incur an increase of $99 dollars/year, or $8.25/month.

Townsend:

It will cost $51 per every one-hundred thousand of your house valuation. For example, a house valuation of $250,000 (not sure what the office average home value is) would incur an increase of $127.50 dollars/year, or $10.625/month.

SUSAN WHITTEMORE

Pepperell