On June 11th, Arlington voters will vote on two ballot questions. The first will secure the funding for the rebuild of Arlington High School. The second is a four-year operating override which ensures that our town and our schools can continue to provide us with the services that we rely on.
The town of Arlington leadership does an admirable job of planning ahead; Arlington hasn’t asked the voters for an operating override in eight years. Since the last operating override in 2011, the footprint of Arlington hasn’t changed. However, school enrollment has increased 20%. While there have been modest increases to the school budget to sustain the re-opening of the Gibbs School and some student enrollment increases, the overall school budget hasn’t kept pace with our school-age population. The School Committee and department have worked together to create a five-year plan outlining needs, including an estimated cost for every item. It is available on the Arlington Public Schools website. The plan acknowledges that in order to accommodate more students, the school budget additions for the last few years have gone toward staffing to enrollment as opposed to funding in several key areas. In order to pay for even a portion of this plan, an operating override is necessary.
The operating override provides level funding for our town. The town budget has increased at a rate of 3.5% annually and it will continue to do so under this plan. Arlington can maintain the same levels of police officers, firefighters and other services that we rely on. The addition to the town-side budget is a one-time $250,000 increase for improvements to sidewalk infrastructure. On the school-side, in addition to being able to maintain the current budget increase rate (3.5% general ed, 7% special ed), the override provides for four increases over four years of $600,000, $600,000, $800,000 and $800,000. These increases will allow the schools to implement much but not all of the plan. Difficult choices will still need to be made but this funding will allow for some actual choices as opposed to simply staffing to cover enrollment.
Our three-generation family lives in Arlington. My husband and I have four children and my dad, a senior, also lives here. We are all voting yes to ensure that our town and our schools can continue to provide us with the services we depend on.
Jane Morgan is a member of the Arlington School Committee.