Town takes stock of override's cost

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Rachel Lebeaux
Globe Correspondent / May 25, 2008

As Franklin's second Proposition 2 1/2 override vote in as many years approaches, town officials are seeking to inform residents about the possibility of teacher layoffs, among other proposed school-related cuts, if they turn down the requested property-tax increase.

A special election has been called for June 10 to ask voters to decide on the proposed $2.8 million override. If approved, the additional funds would allow the district to save approximately 43.5 teaching positions - 16 at Franklin High, 12.5 at the middle school, and 15 at the elementary school - that would otherwise be eliminated, according to school officials. The extra tax money would also forestall a $100 increase in the pay-to-ride bus fee, and spare late bus service for students who stay after school for clubs and other extracurricular activities, they said.

Franklin officials have calculated that the override would add about $244 to the annual property taxes on the town's average home, which is assessed at $411,000.

Last week, the school district sent letters to 47 teachers advising them that their positions might be cut should voters reject the tax increase, School Committee chairman Jeffrey Roy said.

"It's a devastating thing to do, and it definitely has an impact on morale in the buildings, but unfortunately it's a necessary part of this process," Roy said.

Last year, Franklin voters approved a $2.7 million tax increase that was earmarked to stave off significant cuts in the libraries and the schools. It was the first time in about a half-dozen attempts that an override to cover operating budgets, rather than capital improvement projects, had won approval, and some in town are saying that residents should not be asked for another fiscal transfusion so soon.

"There are folks saying that it's not the right time because we had one last year, and because of the economy," said Town Administrator Jeffrey Nutting, "and there are others saying that it's not a lot of money" to support education.

Town Councilor Judy Pfeffer, who voted against asking residents to raise their taxes, predicts that the measure will be rejected. She also said the Town Council is taking a good first step in establishing a panel to examine the town's long-range finances, noting that without an accurate forecast, "every year is just a shot in the dark."

Unlike last spring, the override does not yet appear to be the talk of the town, according to the school board's chairman.

"I don't sense the same type of buzz that was around last year," Roy said. "I'm sure that people who were beaten down last year are reluctant to step up to the plate for a second time."

Still, some citizen-led efforts have been cropping up, with Kaitlyn Cronin among a number of parents trying to organize a "vote yes" campaign.

Cronin said there was no formal group yet, "but there are plans to get something underway." She said the specter of rising class sizes is motivating her and other parents to get involved in the campaign.

"I can't believe the quality of education in Franklin," Cronin said. "To ask for $200 a year, or 50 cents a day, just seems like such a bargain."

A Franklin High School student has also joined the effort, creating a page on a popular social networking website, Facebook, to promote the override.

Several town officials are leading the charge, holding educational meetings in residents' homes and at last week's Newcomers Club meeting. "I'm just hoping that the support in these small groups will translate to the wider community," Roy said.

There will be a public forum on the override Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Mercer Auditorium at Horace Mann Middle School.

Regardless of the outcome of the vote, Town Administrator Nutting said, it's worthwhile to discuss the budget face-to-face with groups of residents.

"So many misconceptions come to a head when an override is discussed," Nutting said. Even with costs related to health insurance, pensions, and fuel on the rise, he said, in many cases "people haven't caught on to the idea that community after community is going through the same thing."

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