I’ve lived in Grafton for six years and haven’t had a dull spring yet. This town definitely keeps me entertained February through May. And what a spring semester 2017 was.
Here are my five takeaways from the past five months, up through last night’s election.
- Congratulations to the School Committee’s newest member, Melissa Mazan. There is nothing quite like the elation that follows a victory in a contested election. Or so I hear.
Melissa steps into the fray at a difficult time for school systems across Massachusetts. The cost of education mandates from Beacon Hill, and the rising cost of health insurance benefits and salaries for teachers, are forcing school systems to make tough choices that are more and more often resulting in staffing cuts.
Worse, there may be no relief in sight from the state. The following two paragraphs were buried in this Grafton News story last week. In my opinion, this is the story:
According to Gale, the legislators are looking for ways to bring the [foundation budget] formula to a more equitable rate by adjusting the calculations for health care, including adding in retiree health insurance to the foundation budget. They are also addressing how the number of students who receive services in the district is calculated.
Gale cautioned that “minimal aid” may be better than a reformulation of the foundation budget for Grafton. As of next year, the gap between the actual Chapter 70 reimbursement and foundation minimal aid will be $771,836, with Grafton benefiting more from minimal aid than from the calculated foundation formula.
So, in other words, when the state revises the formula for aid, it’s unlikley that things will get better for Grafton. Good luck, Melissa.
- Congratulations also to the hard working volunteers who literally spent years trying to replace the library and DPW facilities.
Frankly, if you’d told me two months ago that the library would pass, I’d have been skeptical. At the time, we were having public discussions like, “How can we build a library when we can’t even pay our teachers?” But not only did the library win, it won walking away, 1,197 to 953.
A hand-shake and a beer is due to the library volunteers who worked hard to get their supporters out. Same for the DPW crowd.
According to the numbers, the library’s biggest support came, unsurprisingly, in the places closest to the library, like precincts two and three. The larger no votes came from north and south Grafton. That sounds like sort of an old narrative, but there it is.
- All told, last year’s election got about 1,700 Grafton voters to the polls out of about 10,000 registered voters. With $27 million in spending on the ballot this year, in addition to a contested school committee race, we got about 2,177 people out, adding nearly 500 more voters over a year ago.
I mean… nice to meet you, 500 new people. But where are the rest of you? What’s the takeaway there?
Are we still the Grafton that fought tooth and nail against the library in 2012? Or are we the Grafton that overwhelmingly voted for the override in 2014, and now doesn’t care all that much about expensive capital projects? Because a tempting takeaway for town leaders is going to be that spending money on projects and schools doesn’t really bother you, because even with $27million dollars in spending on the line, we really only got an additional 500 people out to vote this year. And on top of that, when people did vote, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of both projects.
From that perspective, a daunting 2020 looks a little less daunting. The answer will almost certainly be another override proposal. Make of all that what you will.
- I want to thank Teri Turgeon for her ten years of service on the Grafton School Committee. Her tenacity and advocacy for students with special needs will be sorely missed.
Unfortunately for Teri, it looks like her opposition to the library proposal could have been a big factor in the race.
Check out these numbers:
The total School Committee vote was 1,117 Mazan to 900 Turgeon. The total library vote was 1,197 to 953. Eerie, right? It gets more pronounced when you break it down by precinct.
Teri won Precinct 1, 191 to 156. The “No” library vote in Precinct 1? 191. The yes vote, 181.
Melissa won Precinct 2, 237 to 198. The Library also won there, 261 to 197.
Precinct three is a tad less obvious, but the correlation is still there. 483 votes were cast in both the library ballot question and the school committee race. Melissa won, 274 to 178. The library won, 320 to 158. So, Teri picked up 20 library supporters there, with Melissa getting most of the rest and some library supporters leaving 29 blanks. (Congrats to Daryl Rynning for picking up two unsolicited write in votes there).
Precinct 4 went to Melissa, 178 to 136. The library won 201 to 141.
Precinct 5: Yes to Melissa, 272. Yes to the library, 294. Yes to Teri, 197. No to the library, 206.
- I haven’t written much about the new teacher contract, calling for cost of living increases over four years, retroactive to 2016 through 2020, of 2.4%-2%-2%-2%, because there isn’t all that much left to say. Except perhaps that this could have been done with more rational negotiating tactics, and some inclination toward understanding the budget and how it works exhibited by the GTA at the beginning of the process.
But, whatever. Bygones. We’re just going to have to live with the consequences of this contract, including a cost of living increase of 2.0% in 2020 when reasonable budget projections show deficits of over two million dollars. That could mean a lot of jobs, and that is a reality that needs to be taken seriously sooner rather than later.
And finally, if it makes you feel any better, at least we’re not Uxbridge. That town, in its infinite wisdom, voted to “cut their town manager’s and selectmen’s administrative budget by $128,840, and redistribute that amount in equal shares to the Police Department and Fire Department, [which] passed in a secret ballot by a 193-109 vote.”
Now they ostensibly have a charter that mandates a town manager, but don’t have a way to pay for him. Sounds like a mature, rational approach to budgeting. Good luck with all that, Uxbridge.