Feeling sorry

The last couple of weeks has been a great reminder of why I took an extended break from local town politics, and how much I now need another. I am "feeling sorry" but the question for my readers is who am I feeling sorry for? (Perhaps it is me...)

Going to bed at 10 pm and waking up at 2 am with ideas floating around in my head, lying in bed for an hour hoping they will just go away, and then arising at 3 am to turn the coffee on and start writing, or reading, or researching, is not sustainable for days in a row, but I can now report it isn’t fatal.

I’d like to congratulate the supporters and proponents of the new “twin school” building for their resounding election victory during a blinding snowstorm. The schools may have been closed, but the polls remained open, and it was fortunate that many parents got to stay home and cast their ballots. I’m glad, because they are Acton’s future taxpayers who will be supporting the school spending. Acton has always been a magnet for parents who wanted a good public school system and moved here for it, and most are happy with the results. So the outcome of the election was preordained, and such “override” votes, which used to be nail-biters, are now apparently mundane. They are just another step in the process to raise property taxes, not a very high hurdle to convince voters that annual 3% raises are not enough.

The legislature often has bills to bypass or reduce Proposition 2 1/2, because in many communities, the hurdle is so high that needed new spending (as determined by the politicians) is denied by voters. After the overwhelming positive results of these three passed override ballot questions (see the results HERE), Acton no longer has to worry about jumping this hurdle. As taxes go up, older residents will face easier decisions whether to stay in town or move out once their kids graduate, a phenomenon that has been growing. A related one is that those older residents who elect to stay have made peace with rising taxes and are okay with it. We heard from several such residents at the Special Town Meeting which also overwhelmingly passed the overrides.

No offense to my Democratic friends, but if you didn't know this already, most of our political leaders in town and on the School Committee are highly partisan members of your club. Now that the spending caps have been effectively removed, the future results may not be pleasant for taxpayers.

There were several election irregularities, as there sometimes are, but nothing would have changed this vote in my view. Had it been held on a sunny, warm day, turnout would have been greater but I believe the voters have been so skewed that the odds are long of turning down something “for the schools” which the voters have almost all sworn fealty to. It has become synonymous with "for the children."

Proponents had signs printed up supporting the two major ballot questions (twin school and North Acton fire station) and used the town and school logos on their signage. This probably would have required a stronger response by me had the signs been properly designed to be read by people in moving cars. Those behind the signs include current members of the Board of Selectmen and School Committee and I think they should have known better than to use such official symbols on advocacy advertising, but that’s for their boards to deal with.

Of course, my main problem with this process was the denial of being able to present an alternative viewpoint at Town Meeting. I won’t dwell on this as it has been covered in several recent articles, but I will say that the people who were harmed are those who might have reconsidered their support when they learned new information which I was prevented from fully presenting. I guess those who later learn they made a mistake can just leave town. So yes, I am feeling sorry for them.

My last concern is what I learned researching the enrollment projections used by the School during its Special Town Meeting presentation. The data I found suggest that future kindergarten enrollments were overstated. Whether this was the result of a new analysis by NESDEC; whether it was a clerical error that persisted for three years and which nobody caught; or whether it was by design, an attempt to show higher numbers to justify a new $116 million project instead of something smaller and more affordable, we may never know. But somehow, the multiplier used from births to kindergarten enrollment was increased from about 1.52 in 2016 to almost 1.75 in 2017, and remained above 1.70 for the next two years, which brings us to the present. This change is highly suspicious and incredibly convenient. Here is that chart again: Birth to Kindergarten ratios 2016-2019.

And to see how that ratio change may have affected the projections, the corresponding enrollment projections from 2016 to 2019 are here: Enrollment Projections 2016-2019

The article which explains all this in excruciating detail (even for me) is here: acton-vote-no-ballot-question-one-school-building

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah!

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