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Parents - It's Okay to Say No on 2

The natural reaction when the school board asks for an override is to say “yes.” Believe me, I get it. It’s for the kids, right? We did it with the Glover School. We did it again with the new Brown School. We authorized the town to do a debt exclusion override for the purpose of paying for these new buildings for our schools. As parents in Marblehead, we want to support our schools. We show up for fundraisers. We volunteer our time to coach and to chaperone. We appreciate the phenomenal efforts of our teachers to educate our children. I, for one, am floored by the efforts of my daughters’ teachers this year.

 

So, with that being said, how can I possibly say no to an override for the schools? Well because this one
is different. This is not a debt exclusion override that goes away as soon as the project has been paid off. This is a permanent tax levy. That means the new additional tax burden of $3,051,093 will increase by 2½% in perpetuity. 

 

So what is the $3 million plus override going to be spent on? After attending all three School Committee Q&A sessions, this is what I determined. First and foremost, $500,000 is going to the town to pay for benefits for new positions, none of which are classroom teachers. No money is going to our existing teachers at all. The most expensive position, a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director, will cost the taxpayers $125,000 a year plus benefits. This position got the most attention during the Q&A sessions. What was not adequately answered was why we can’t split this position with Swampscott, cutting this expense in half.

 

The second big component of this override is free all-day kindergarten. As a parent of two children who attended Kindergarten in town, I am in favor of including this in the school budget. What surprised me is that the additional cost for all-day kindergarten is only $375,000. That is only 1/8 of the proposed override. Furthermore, after conducting some research, I learned that Marblehead is experiencing significant declining enrollment. In 2017 the district had 3,100 students to educate. In 2022 the total kids in the district is 2,600. That’s over a 15% decline in just 5 years. Furthermore, Marblehead is projected to have an additional 500 student decline over the next 5 years. To put in perspective how much our school community has changed, our 2022 graduating class was 247 seniors. We currently have 147 kindergarteners, and not one class in the elementary school system is above 200. So, with natural teacher attrition and declining enrollments, we could easily pay for all day kindergarten without raising taxes one penny.

 

The final component of the override is capital improvement. The School Committee is requesting a one-time expense of $880,000 for updated camera and security systems for our school buildings. Again, I’m in favor of this. In today’s climate, school security is vital. The challenge that I have is what the committee is going to do with those funds in year two and beyond. Remember - this override is forever. Instead of asking for a one-time debt exclusion to pay for this, they simply want to add the $880,000 into the budget permanently and spend it on whatever they want in the future without providing a plan to the taxpayers.

 

Thanks to an article I read in this paper, I learned about an alternative way for the schools to get the funds needed for the security cameras. Under the American Rescue Plan Act, (ARPA) the Town of Marblehead has access to $6 million for capital improvements. So far it seems we have only spent $76,000 on Covid supplies, and Moses Grader of the Select Board has earmarked another $144,000 for rail trail improvements. This leaves plenty of funds to cover the $880,000 for security camera infrastructure at our schools. This project is perfect for the ARPA funds and again does not cost the taxpayers of Marblehead one additional penny.

 

So again, if you’re a parent of a school age kids, please know that it is ok to say NO to Question 2. We can still meet the needs of our children and at the same time protect the elderly and overburdened taxpayers. Elected school committee members and leaders, please address the decline in enrollment and use your resources wisely, and then, if you still have needs, make a compelling case for each one of them separately. Do not roll it into a permanent override that looks more like a slush fund than something that will truly help our children.

 

John Prindiville

Stanley Road, Marblehead

 

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