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I believe there are many reasons to support the override, involving public safety, town government, and the schools. In addition to preventing draconian cuts to our schools, the override will allow for five police officers and four firefighters/paramedics to be hired, as well as maintaining access to key town departments, such as elder services, the DPW, and the library. The cost of these benefits to the average-assessed home will be $488 per year or $9.38/week.
Many in this town, including our family, selected Reading for the reputation and perceived strength of the schools. Unfortunately, ever since we arrived, our school district has been beleaguered by unremitting cuts, with resultant, predictable effects on programs and teachers. When one examines the actual statistics on per pupil spending, no one could dispute the woefully inadequate state of funding for our schools. Our town is currently 114th of 125 towns in greater Boston in per pupil spending. Put differently, only 11 towns in all of greater Boston spend less than our town does on a per pupil basis on the education of its children. Unsurprisingly, fewer than 30 towns in greater Boston have a higher class size than Reading (greater Boston statistics from https://www.bostonmagazine.com/best-school-districts-boston-2017-chart/). Surely, these statistics must simply reflect the unrestrained spending of the wealthiest towns in greater Boston, right? Hardly – in the most recent statistics available online (2016) at the Department of Education for the state of Massachusetts (http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/statereport/ppx.aspx), Reading was 39th worst out of 322 school districts in Massachusetts for per pupil spending, which means that 88% of the school districts in Massachusetts spend more per pupil than Reading does. The sobering statistics above would only be exacerbated by the failure of an override, which would result in the elimination of three elementary school teachers, seven middle school teachers, and delay foreign language instruction to 9th grade instead of the current 7th grade. In my view, these statistics and planned cuts are a colossal and indefensible embarrassment for a town that in the not-so-distant past, prided itself on its commitment to schools.
Without a renewed commitment to our schools, one can be certain that the recent rise in property values will be curtailed. This is a simple relationship – if a town’s schools are poorly funded, with large class sizes, and are unable to retain talented teachers, families that are able to do so will depart, and future potential residents will look elsewhere. Once our reputation is tarnished as a town unwilling to fund its educational system and town needs, it will be difficult to undo the damage. Declines in demand for housing and prices may be the ultimate impact for all.
I urge you to vote yes on the override on the ballot on April 3rd. Show your commitment to our children, schools, public safety departments, and to our town as a whole. We are all in this together, with a shared future: Let’s make it a bright one!