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If you, the reader, would be kind enough to indulge me, I’d like to share pieces of conversations that I’ve had with residents regarding the override vote on April 3rd. As a supporter of this override, I’ve literally knocked on hundreds of doors over the past month to remind residents of the override vote and to listen to their questions and concerns. Listed below are the most common questions I’ve heard from residents during these conversations and how I’ve addressed them.
Why do the schools need more money?
Over the past five years, state funding for our school district has been cut significantly while, at the same time, the state has mandated special education programs that have added to our cost base. Effectively, the state has pushed its costs down to the town level. When you include the exploding healthcare costs for our school personnel, it has been impossible to maintain the level of staffing and services historically offered to our students.
Where is this money going?
The override would restore 5 teaching positions that have been cut, as well as preserve 10 middle and elementary school teacher positions that will be cut if the override fails. Amazingly, the entire middle school foreign language program will be eliminated in the absence of an override. In addition, the override will fund 5 additional police officers and 4 additional firefighters in order to bring our staffing levels in line with comparable towns.
One comment that I’ve heard is that residents don’t want to fund more “big government” in Reading. I find this argument confounding since you can hardly label teachers, police officers and firemen as “big government” positions.
Why should I trust this town with my money?
While we may be able to find pockets of what some of us might consider waste in our town’s budget, the fact is that we’ve been shielded from a structural override for 15 years. Most surrounding communities have only lasted 7 or 8 years without an override. In addition, we’ve built a level of cash reserves that allow us to maintain the highest bond ratings, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in borrowing costs. Finally, our spending per student consistently ranks near the bottom of Massachusetts towns based on data compiled as part of Boston Magazine’s annual school rankings.
I realize that there are things about our town that may make each of us angry at times, but I challenge you to find a Boston area town that is run more efficiently than Reading.
I don’t have kids in the schools, what’s in it for me?
Very simply, the value of your home will ultimately be impacted by the outcome of the April 3rd vote. If we collectively vote yes, Reading will continue to attract families who value our schools and will be willing to pay a premium to live in our town. If we collectively vote no, those same families will consider other communities that place a higher value on schools, safety, and emergency services. Given that we are essentially a bedroom community without much commerce, the primary reason people move to Reading is the quality of our schools.
I pose a simple question to you: Would you be willing to spend $488 this year to maintain the value of your home and property? I would. So instead of fixing my front steps this year, I’ll vote “Yes” on April 3. Based on the Mason quotes I’ve received, the override seems likely to provide a much better return on investment.