Debrief: Hull Parents, Students Suffer Override Defeat

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.”

Before election night, Hull residents held signs near the town's middle school. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

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.

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  • Emily A

    This is just awful. I am so sorry for those parents. Shame on those short-sighted penny pinchers who voted against it. However, what if the 1300 people that voted for this override were to donate $100 apiece? That is $130,000 — enough for foreign language teachers in the 7th and 8th grades (assuming 1/grade), plus plenty left over for the high school drama and sports programs. $150-200 apiece would get enough for the AP classes to be reinstated, I’d imagine. And there are probably plenty of lazy people who didn’t bother to vote who might consider donating now that they’ve seen the results of the vote.

  • Jennifer Whelan

    Just to clarify a few things. There are AP classes at the high school, however they are VERY limited and overcrowded. All of the classes from elementary through high school are overcrowded resulting in the quality of the education to be reduced due to safety and discipline issues. Along with no budget for drama and sports and no foreign language at the middle school, it is important to realize that we do not have a history teacher at the middle school, metal shop and woodwork at the high school, a business program at the high school, limited library and technology at the middle school, and no librarian at the Jacob’s school as well as many needed staff members (ie; literacy and math coaches, psychologists, etc.). This goes way beyond what was reported as to the loss to the school system.

  • Marianne Harte

    While I am so disappointed in not achieving our goal of an override, I am glad to have been re-elected to the school committee. It is a true testament to the citizens of this town that 1300 people voted YES! We’ll work on keeping what we have in place, and we will continue to do outreach to garner even more support for the schools. As far I am concerned, my pity party is over and I’m ready to work!

  • Chris Droste

    There is more than one way for parents that think their children aren’t getting a proper education to pay for that education, taxes are just one option. The electorate of the Commonwealth has decided two and a half percent is enough of an annual increase and the yearly affirmation of that decision speaks volumes. If these parents are so dedicated to their children’s education why are they keeping those children in what the parents so obviously consider a sub-standard school? If you want to pay more for schooling then do so, but stop asking me to pay more than I already am to educate your children.

  • Carlos

    As A hull resident I am disappointed at this. Having good school that are well funded benefits everyone, even those who opposed this on the grounds of not paying more taxes. A good school system is a draw that makes living in a town desirable, thus keeping property values up. I have always been proud to live in a town that seems to be forward thinking when it comes to wind energy, but this vote makes me wonder how truly progressive Hull is. I like the idea of having a fund raiser for the school. Maybe that would be a better way to move forward since it will be up to those of us that care about the school to contribute and make a difference…

  • Mike

    The trouble with spending someone else’s money is.. you never know when it’s going to run out.

  • M Smith

    One thing, the residents are paying for is the total refurbishment of all three schools. The school committee came to town meeting to plead their case they promised us poor overtaxed citizens that there would not be ANY MORE requests for ADDITIONAL funding until the staggering debt was repaid. Now they come back asking for more money. We are paying too much in taxes for what we receive. . There is no municipal trash collection, no life guards, the librarary lost its certification . The streets and infrastructure are in poor condition. The launch ramps don’t work, ad finim…. Also what doe this request show our children, thats its okay to make a solemn promise then reneg on it?

  • Trish

    I am sick of throwing good money after bad. The Town and School dept have promised and lied to us too many times. Taxes keep going up and the Town is in worse shape than ever with too many back door deals going on. The teachers won’t give an inch on healthcare but they expect us to raise their pay and raise our taxes for them -shame on the teachers for being too greedy. Shame on our Town and school officals who hold the kids hostage while they try and force us to yet again to bend their will. Well we’ve had enough!

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