By Katina Caraganis
The second time was the charm for the North Middlesex Regional School District, as a Proposition 2 1/2 override passed in both Ashby and Pepperell, despite failing to garner support in Townsend.
The override passed by a three-vote margin, 515-512, in Ashby, and by a healthy, 1702-1406 spread in Pepperell.
In Townsend, however, 1,372 voters were opposed to the 1,102 in favor.
Because two of the three towns agreed, the override passes, and Townsend must find a way to come up with its share of the budget without the help of an override to pass the surplus on to the taxpayers.
North Middlesex Regional School Committee members voted this summer to approve a budget that is $1,994,291 less than the district's needs budget and contains $200,000 from the district's reserves.
The override will permanently raise the tax base more than the 2.5 percent allowed by state law in Ashby and Pepperell.
Chuck Raymond of Ashby expressed his support for the override Tuesday afternoon outside the elementary school, saying that while it won't have much of an impact on his children, it will impact other students.
"This is one of the most important votes right now," he said. "The future of our schools is at stake here."
The average taxpayer in Ashby will see an increase of $51 per $100,000 of assessed valuation per year, while residents in Pepperell will see an increase of $33 per $100,000 of valuation
In Townsend, the increase would have been $51 per $100,000 of valuation had the override passed.
"It's $10 a month. It's so worth it," Raymond said.
Michelle Thomas, also of Ashby, voted in favor of the override, saying if it didn't pass, she was afraid of what would happen to the district.
"My biggest fear if this doesn't pass is that everything will spiral out of control," she said. "I believe in this community, and I believe in its educational system. It should be all about what people can do to help fix the problem."
Kathy Mackel of Pepperell said the override was not something she could support.
"Well, I came out to vote no, reluctantly," she said. "It's not so long ago that they told us they needed an addition to Peter Fitzpatrick School, so we built one. And then they said they needed a new school, so we built one. And now we have a big school sitting empty at the rotary. When they sell that school, I will vote yes for an override."
Sarah Jackson of Ashby stood at the intersection of routes 31 and 119 on Tuesday afternoon holding a sign in support of the override.
With three children, she said it was imperative to get the word out about how a failed override would affect students.
She said her 10-year-old daughter was adamant about wanting to play an instrument when school starts in the fall, so she and her husband invested $1,100 in a trombone.
"She sacrificed other things like dance so she could plan an instrument," Jackson said. "If this doesn't pass, there will be no lessons for her because I can't afford to send her to private ones. We will contemplate moving if this doesn't pass. Our kids are too young, and we don't want them growing up in this kind of environment where education isn't valued."
Pepperell resident Barry O'Brien said a solid education is the foundation for everything else in life.
"Democracy is based on an educated populace," he said. "Without it, everything falls apart. We need to take care of the next generation. My wife, Carol, and I don't have school-aged children, but you need to support that. You just do."
School Committee Chairwoman Susan Robbins held a "vote yes" sign outside Memorial Hall in Townsend on Tuesday afternoon and said that while override elections are hard to predict, it's never fun to not have a budget in place.
"Having a budget in place prior to the start of the school year provides a much more stable environment for the kids," Robbins said. "With a budget, the School Committee would be focusing on educating kids rather than fighting for a budget."
Dale Gamble of Pepperell said such programs as band and drama were what made his otherwise quiet daughter thrive in the schools, and he'd like to see those opportunities for other kids fade away.
"I understand chorus and band are on the chopping block to be cut," he said. "It would be a major shame if the program was dropped because it gave her the opportunity to come out of her shell."
But for some, they can't see the benefits.
"The Pepperell school system needs to be redone," Pepperell resident Bob Johnson said. "It needs to be given back to the people. We need to pay attention to the school, never mind the big shots at the top. We need to pay attention to the teachers. We need to get involved with the kids."