By Irene González de las Casas, Olivia Middien and Justin Liu
Graphics by Denise Chan
On March 14, Newton residents voted in a special election on an override proposal put forth by the City of Newton. By approving an override, the community can assess taxes in excess of the automatic annual 2.5 percent increase: this money would be allocated toward city services.
Included on the ballot were three questions regarding city funding.
Question One proposed an additional $9,175,000 in real estate and personal property taxes to be accessed and used for school funding, park building, road repaving, tree planting and funding elderly service programs—the main benefactor being Newton Public Schools. Ultimately, Question One was rejected with 53 percent of voters voting against the proposal.
Questions Two and Three proposed temporary tax increases to obtain the $5.8 million needed to renovate the Countryside and Franklin Elementary Schools. Both questions were approved with 52 and 53 percent of the vote, respectively.
In previous overrides passed in 2002 and 2013, voter turnout ranged from 57 percent to 32 percent, respectively. This year, 34 percent of Newton’s registered voters cast their ballots.
Senior Jaesuh Lee said that voter turnout was not as high as he’d hoped since the questions addressed issues important to Newton.
“I was personally a little disappointed by the lack of people participating,” he said. “It’s very important to speak your opinion on important issues, especially ones that are concerning really critical problems like rebuilding elementary schools and repaving roads.”
Students at South worked to increase voter turnout by handing out informational flyers, setting up voter registration tables and broadcasting the election on social media. Senior William Lock said that many South students registered to vote as a result of the efforts of other students.
“Not many people feel like they can benefit from an override, especially with the many people in private schools,” he said, “If it weren’t for the effort made by South students to publicize the override, most voters from South would have never known there was a bill.”
Senior Marisa MacDonald, who helped publicize the election, said she was motivated by her concern about supply shortages in classrooms.
“The ceramics room is going to be underfunded. We ran out of clay last year in March, so I’m scared for this year,” she said. “There are a lot of health issues in this room that aren’t going to be fixed since Question One didn’t pass.”
In a newsletter to the Newton community addressing override results, Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said that building two new elementary schools will foster a superior educational setting.
“I can proudly say we will be building two new elementary schools, Countryside and Franklin,” she said. “I am excited for the students who will have better learning environments at these two great new facilities. These new schools are long overdue and will be terrific additions to our city and the Newton Public Schools.”
Meanwhile, Principal Tamara Stras said she is concerned about the negative impacts on Newton schools after voters rejected Question One. If ratified, the question would have provided NPS with an additional $4.5 million.
“I am disappointed that the override question did not pass because it directly impacts Newton South,” she said. “Every principal in this district is doing the best that they can and fighting for their school.”
South Stage manager and theater teacher Paige Perkinson said she is worried about how the results may affect teachers’ positions.
“The result will be teachers losing jobs, even though enrollment is going up across the district,” she said. “I don’t know how they will allocate the cutbacks, but it’s very alarming, being an art teacher.”
Former city councilor and Ligerbots coach Greer Tan Swinston said high citizen participation in government decisions is crucial.
“We as citizens should all be politicians,” he said. “That’s the whole point of American democracy, we need to care about what’s going on, all the time.”