BOSTON — Occasionally this spring, WBUR’s “Towns In Trouble” series is examining how the state budget crisis is reverberating in two Massachusetts communities: Hull and Gardner. On Monday night, Hull residents rejected a proposed Proposition 2 1/2 override, which means property taxes won’t be raised to help pay for school activities.
Following the vote, Fred Thys spoke with Morning Edition’s Bob Oakes.
Bob Oakes: What would this override have funded, had it passed?
Fred Thys: It would have restored advanced placement classes at Hull High School. Right now, there aren’t any AP classes at the school. It would have restored language classes in middle school. Right now, students have to wait until high school to begin learning a foreign language. And it would have restored funding for sports and theater, which, for some students, are the reasons they work hard to keep their grades up, because they can’t do extra-curricular activities unless they get good grades.
This past year, students and parents have raised money for after-school activities, but it was hard. They found that it was pretty much the same people in town who contributed money every time, and they’re afraid that when they start going back to those people this summer, the well might dry up and they won’t be able to fund theater or sports.
Over the past two years, 49 percent of override votes in Massachusetts have passed, but Hull voters rejected this one. By what margin? What was the reaction?
In total, 3,092 votes were cast, which is a almost a third of the town’s population — a pretty amazing number for a town vote. In fact, I’ve never seen a town election like this, with this sense of excitement. All day long in front of the middle school there were various crowds of supporters, and the biggest crowd was at the tent to support the override.
But Monday night, 1,309 people voted for the override, while 1,783 voted against it. In the middle school cafeteria, when the vote was announced, there were gasps from the parents who had worked hard to get this override passed and came up short.
Why did people vote against the override? What did they tell you?
Part of it was a question of trust. One voter I spoke with has a son about to enter high school and yet she voted against the override because she doesn’t believe the town can improve the schools fast enough for her son to benefit, and so her family is moving to Hingham this summer.
Another factor seemed to be a feeling that the town should live within its budget. One woman told me simply that there should not be any overrides. Another woman told me that the town should be able to make do without an override.
You’ve been following the parents who have been pushing for this override. What was their reaction?
Shock and tremendous disappointment. Lisa Jenkins, the head of the group of mothers who have been trying to save theater, was heartbroken. She summed it up best:
“It’s not about drama,” Jenkins said in tears outside the middle school. “It’s about their education. It’s about their education. I don’t know what to say. We’ll work hard, more, that’s all.”
What does she mean by, “We’ll work hard, more?” What can Jenkins and other parents do now they’ve lost the override battle?
Politically, there’s nothing more they can do this year. And before the override, parents were saying that if they lost this one, it would be the second year in a row that the town has voted against raising taxes to fund education. So they thought that if they lost, it was a clear sign that the town doesn’t want to pay more for schools. Parents will have to raise all the money for sports and theater again, and there won’t be any advanced placement courses in high school or language courses in middle school. In the end, it is the children who suffer from these budget cuts.
There is fear among some of the parents that the town will go downhill as a result of this vote. One woman who helped organize last year’s failed override attempt said that if it failed this year, she was thinking about pulling her children out of public school, but she was very conflicted about it, because she felt she would be betraying the cause of public education.
What happens now?
The town manager says the vote is a blow to the school system in Hull. But because the town planned for budget cuts, next year the schools will have the same funding they had this year. So they won’t lose more programs, they just won’t get AP and language classes back, and sports and theater will survive only if students and parents can raise the money for them.