Another Override?

How Did We Get Here?

Our district’s funding crisis is not a spending problem. It’s a revenue problem.

  • For one, Massachusetts spends less than the national average on schools.
  • Second, the state has determined that, based on our income and property values, Hamilton and Wenham must fund the cost of educating our children almost entirely on our own. In fact, the State requires our towns to fund over 85% of our school budget ourselves.
  • Third, our towns have no real way to raise money except through property taxes. We have very little commercial tax base—so the burden of any increase in property taxes falls almost entirely on homeowners.
  • Finally, we can only increase property taxes by 2.5% a year under Proposition 2.5, but the cost of maintaining existing services continues to rise more than 2.5%.

Can’t we just “tighten our belts” for a year or two? It’s not that easy. Our major budget drivers next year are “fixed” or non-discretionary costs, such as utilities (which will increase 15% next year), pensions, taxes and insurance (which will increase 16%) and special education. The cost of special education—a cost that the State and the Federal government chronically underfunds —will increase 21% next year.

The district is doing everything it can to control discretionary costs: our teachers’ salaries are less than the state average and will increase by only 2% next year. Our administrative costs and per-pupil costs are right in line with state averages.

In short, the gap grows every year between the services we need and our ability to pay for them. SOS and many other groups in our town are working to find as many ways as possible to close this gap. But for right now, for this fiscal year, we have no realistic way to bridge the gap except with an override.

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