By SCOTT MERZBACHStaff Writer
Thursday, January 14, 2010
AMHERST - A group that supports passing a Proposition 2½ override to alleviate some of the townwide impacts from a projected $4 million budget shortfall is collecting signatures from residents in an online petition drive.
Vote Yes for Amherst, which just launched its Yes4A.com Web site, currently has a petition aimed at the Select Board and School Committee to demonstrate the values the community holds, said Kevin Collins, a member of the group.
"The idea is to listen to everybody and to give everyone a chance to speak," Collins said. "The petition is so that the elected representatives can vote with a clear conscience and know they are respecting the wishes of everyone."
The petition, which aims to collect 1,000 signatures, reads, in part, "The federal and state governments have cut our schools and town funding. We can't control that or the economy. But we do have control over our local dollars.
"We need to save the worst from happening with a sensible Proposition 2½ override. There have only been two overrides in 30 years."
The Web site will serve as a means of educating the public about the override, the first attempted since a failed effort in 2007, and the possible cuts that would result.
"The override is about the people who will be losing their jobs and the effect that will have on the value of people's homes," Collins said.
Andy Churchill, spokesman for the override group, said organizers are already speaking to those who helped successfully achieve an override in Northampton last year.
"We really see this as an opportunity for community building," said Churchill, who is also a member of the School Committee.
Churchill observed that the Facilitation for Community Choices Committee in 2008 recommended a combination of cuts and an override to get the town through the fiscal crisis. Many of these cuts and cost savings, including the closing of Mark's Meadow School, getting givebacks in health insurance, layoffs and regionalizing the emergency dispatch operations, have already taken place or are in progress.
The override is a time for residents to decide what kind of town they want Amherst to be. "We can protect against the worst of the cuts," Churchill said.
Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O'Keeffe said she sees the Yes for Amherst petition more as the beginning of a conversation about the override, as it has already been certain for several months that the municipal election scheduled for March 23 would feature it as a question. Her board is responsible for crafting the text of the override and then submitting it to the town clerk's office by Feb. 16 at 4 p.m.
The Budget Coordinating Group, which includes representatives from the Select Board, School Committee, Jones Library trustees and Finance Committee, will receive an executive summary of the budget proposals from each of the departments and outline of cuts at its meeting Jan. 21. At that time, group members will begin discussing the size and structure of the override, and the following week will vote on its draft recommendations, and then present and approve these on Feb. 4.
At its Feb. 8 meeting, the Select Board will discuss the override question and get it ready for the ballot.
Residents will have an opportunity to provide feedback that night.
If the discussion is not completed that night, the board will continue the meeting Feb. 12 at 8:30 a.m.
My Goal in Blogging
I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.