Sometime after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Beverly homeowners will know if they'll be paying more taxes next year or will have one less elementary school and 18 fewer teachers on the city payroll.
The question of whether to pay higher taxes or cut school costs has been a constant topic of discussion since April, when city officials decided to hold a Proposition 2 1/2 override referendum on Tuesday. The $2.5 million override vote comes after months of debate about the school budget, which is $2.66 million in the red for the 2008-09 school year.
For voters, it comes down to two options. A yes vote would add another $152 a year in taxes to residents who own median-family homes valued at $369,850. A no vote means the closing of the 10-year-old McKeown Elementary School, redistricting its students, and cutting 31 full-time school jobs - including five high school teaching positions among the 18 overall.
In this fiscally conservative city - which has never held a Proposition 2 1/2 override referendum - the debate has been constant, but civil, according to Annmarie Cesa, School Committee president. And, while pro- and anti-override groups have lobbied residents through meetings and with lawn signs, the campaign has not reached the acrimony that has occurred in neighboring towns during similar override elections in past years.
"People have been respectful and creative. We're all working together for a common goal of the whole," said Cesa, who is planning to vote yes on Tuesday and is one of the few elected officials who have taken a public stand on the override.
Those who have remained neutral include Mayor William Scanlon Jr. and City Council President Tim Flaherty.
Late last month, Scanlon - who also is a member of the School Committee - weighed in with a last-minute plan that could make the cuts less austere than originally anticipated.
In March, James Hayes, the school superintendent, proposed eliminating two elementary schools and cutting 61 school jobs. But in May, the School Committee accepted Scanlon's plan, which calls for using $680,000 in savings from trash and recycling costs to supplement the school shortfall, and cutting one elementary school and 30 fewer jobs. That plan will be implemented if the referendum fails.
"I'm not happy at all about the prospect of closing any school, but I believe that saving one is worthwhile," said Scanlon.
In his downtown sub shop, Paul Guanci, the former City Council president, predicted a close vote on Tuesday.
"I think it's split, 50-50," said Guanci, who is undecided on how he will vote. He said the override is the main topic of discussion downtown. "I hear about it here, over the counter, if I go to the bank, if I stick my head into City Hall. It's the big issue in Beverly."
At nearby coffee shops, residents like Ron Spence also said they were undecided.
"I really haven't made up my mind. At first I thought I was definitely going to vote against it, and I'm having different thoughts about it now," said Spence, who has lived in the city for 32 years and owns a motor lodge.
Gallo, whose last child is graduating from Beverly High School this year, said residents can't afford a tax hike.
"There are just way too many people now who are struggling to pay for heat, for gas, for groceries, and I just don't think that people need to take on any more expense," said Gallo.
"I could do it, but you can't always look out for yourself. You have to look out for the general good of the public," she said.
While Gabriel does not have children in school, he plans to vote yes. "The school system is really the central key to keeping up property values and attracting people to our community," he said. "I'd rather make sure that we're doing those things with our money, so I'll pay the extra money."