To the editor:
As the parent of a Marblehead Public Schools student, and as a lifelong Marbleheader, I understand how easy it is to get caught up in the “‘yes’ on Question 1” messaging. Most people know that I’m against raising taxes, I’ve often caught a “bad rap” as a “conservative” or “the ‘no’ guy” or whatever. That said, no one wants to see important positions get eliminated. No one wants to put our schools or safety at risk. No one wants to see the end of freshman athletics.
Personally, I am alarmed at the content of the door tags recently distributed around town by the ‘yes’ on 1 committee. I feel it is blatantly misleading and disingenuous to say the least. First off, the claim that 33 positions in the schools will be cut without a tax increase fails to mention two important facts: primarily, that nearly half, if not more, of these positions are currently vacant and second, that Marblehead schools are among the most overstaffed in Massachusetts.
Why is this? As the Boston Globe reported last year, Marblehead has lost more students than any other city or town in the Commonwealth. We are down to 2,600 students from 3,100 but have not adjusted our “student facing” staff accordingly. This is a management issue, not a budget issue.
Why do the schools keep prodding along with the same budget every year, with no real transparency on any line item, and just keep asking for more? As a taxpayer and parent I have asked myself year after year, ”Where does all that money go?” I have even been told during School Committee meetings that the ”Commonwealth allows us to move money within the budget.” I wish the Commonwealth would allow me to do the same, let alone my mortgage company!
At any rate, I digress. What is more important is to realize that the list of proposed cuts is not finalized. The School Committee has the ability to make budget changes at any time. If they can shift money within the budget with little or no oversight, why can’t they shift it back to freshman sports?
Let’s look at it this way: If new School Committee members are elected on Tuesday, for example, they can decide to redirect money currently in the budget for “DEI training” or myriad other things (including the $50,000 line item for Smart Boards that we as taxpayers appropriated $850,000 to last year) in order to restore freshman sports.
Please also remember, the positions on the “cut list” are line items within the schools’ budget that taxpayers have been held responsible for years, yet remain unfilled. Also, remember that this fiscal year, the superintendent is paying a public relations consultant $2,000 per month to do his publicity rather than just writing emails and communicating with the community himself. I know, I know, it has recently been publicized that he has decided to eliminate that expense (perhaps from outside pressure?). Anyhow, that is real money ($24,000) that honestly could have done a lot to help actual teachers and avoid the current financial situation. So basically, not a single penny of this override is going toward raises for the hard-working teachers in our district PERIOD.
The misrepresentations regarding town expenditures are even more outlandish. The public safety positions they are threatening to “cut” are currently vacant. Please note that Marblehead currently fully staffs all three of our fire trucks 24/7 with three firefighters each. What is being proposed would add additional firefighters. Chief Jason Gilliland himself has said that public safety will not be adversely impacted if Question 1 fails.
Looking at the numbers included on the flier, the misrepresentations continue. While it may be true that Marblehead has the sixth lowest tax rate in Essex County, we still pay a lot more, because the actual tax bill is based on the rate times the home value. Marblehead has some of the most expensive real estate values in Essex County, significantly higher than any of our surrounding communities. A quick look on realtor.com will show that the median listing is $1.1 million. That’s more than what the assessed value often is, for sure, but can you see the impact on your home in 10 years? How does that impact the elderly, let alone the working-class family, in a modest $500,000 home (not that it exists anymore)?
What the flier also didn’t mention is that our taxes are already going up this year automatically by almost 3%. They will go up by another 3.1% if Question 1 passes. This combined 6.1% increase is more than $600 per year for the average taxpayer. I have even been accused of “double math“ on this by supporters of the override.
What they don’t take into consideration is the existing Proposition 2 ½ 2.5% levy, our revolving debt-exclusion levy, and “tacking” another 2.5% on top of that. “It’s just a cup of coffee a day,” they want you to believe. But remember this tax increase is permanent, meaning it compounds automatically at 2.5% per year FOREVER.
In my opinion, there has been so much mismanagement combined with a lack of clear communication from both the school and town leadership. We were told at Town Meeting and across multiple media platforms that we have new software, cloud-based, etc., and “were” moving forward. That’s great and all. How about this: Before our AAA bond rating gets destroyed, let’s have a full and clear review of our books and our processes, and let our new Finance Director Aleesha Nunley get the “checkbook(s)” under control BEFORE we throw any more money at the fire?
Until they both do a complete financial audit and open their books for everyone to see, we can’t justify giving them more of our money to spend. On June 20, please vote “no” on Question 1.
And while you’re at it, vote for change in as many of our town officials as possible. It’s clear we need new leadership to help guide Marblehead into a solvent and bright future.