More than $3M to be added to school budgets per vote
By Citizen Chronicle Writers
Voters in Charlton and Dudley have approved Tuesday a Proposition 2 ½ override totaling more than $3 million for the regional school district.
More than 60 percent of voters expressed their support for a $3,087,988 override. In Charlton, nearly 63 percent of voters supported a $1,543,655 increase to the tax rate by 99 cents to $14.49 per $1,000 in valuation. The totals were 1,217 yes votes and 719 votes against the override. In Dudley, nearly 58 percent of voters supported an increase of $1,544,333, which town officials have said will raise the tax rate by $1.60 to $13.33 per $1,000 in valuation. Vote totals in that town were 724 in favor, 533 opposed.
Dudley-Charlton Regional School Superintendent Gregg Desto took to social media to thank voters in the district’s two member towns. Mr. Desto offered “sincere thanks” on behalf of the district’s students, staff, administrators, and members of the school committee, while adding all are “incredibly grateful.”
“I believe in this concept of the greater good of society. Regardless of the age, of whether or not you have children in school — I have a daughter that is graduating this year, and at that point I have no other children in the system — but I still see the value of providing a top-notch education,” said override support Stefan Sage of Charlton. “Right now I don’t think we’re providing a top-notch education because of the lack of funding that we have chosen to have for our schools. Here’s an opportunity to make a different choice. Society, the impact on society in the long-term, beyond my life, is going to be impacted by today.”
The only signs visible at the polls in Charlton on Tuesday morning and in Dudley mid-afternoon were in support of the override. At the end of the long driveway leading to the Heritage School, where Charlton residents cast their votes, Mr. Sage and Elaine M. Rabbitt braved the cold wind and occasionally raw rain to lobby neighbors on behalf of the yes vote.
Ms. Rabbitt, a member of the Dudley-Charlton Regional School Committee, said the regional school district faces an annual increase of $1.5 million to its fixed costs, and needs $1 million for technological infrastructure “so we can move forward into digital learning.”
“We are looking to put in the infrastructure in six of the seven school buildings so we can be using modern technology to effectively educate kids,” she explained, later adding that the infrastructure is “much needed.”
Improvements to technology would also include the addition of a pair of what Ms. Rabbitt called “combination technology instructors” who will be involved in direct instruction of students while also teaching faculty members on best practices for integrating digital learning into their own classrooms.
The funding is also earmarked to help provide elementary school adjustment counselors.
“Then we are looking to add two adjustment counselors at elementary ages because of the great increase in need for social-emotional mental health needs,” Ms. Rabbit said. “We are trying to get to our younger students so we are looking to do two adjustment counselors in the four elementary school buildings.
Ms. Rabbitt noted the tax rates in both towns “are extremely low,” noting that Dudley has the lowest tax rate of 71 communities in Worcester County, while Charlton ranks 49th of the 71 municipalities.
“The override came through a year-and-a-half of working together with the School Committee, the Boards of Selectmen, and the finance board in both towns,” Ms. Rabbitt said. “We came together with a very thoughtful plan that is a response to our strategic plan of how we can move forward to make impactful changes for the next two years.”
The tax increases passed by voters will only help the budgets in the two towns, Ms. Rabbitt asserted.
“Every dollar that is committed to education in this forum removes the pressure from the town budget on how they turn around and fund town services and town government. So, it is to our advantage to have the town’s ability to fund education without impacting everything else,” said Ms. Rabbitt. “It shouldn’t be an either-or situation issue, we should be working together to really look at the community as a whole. It’s not one against the other.”