By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer
SHREWSBURY – With a “yes” vote by over 4,000 Shrewsbury residents, a $9.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 budget override has been approved.
Town officials, as a result, are celebrating.
According to the unofficial results released by the town, 4,323 voters voted “yes” and 2,769 voted “no” at the ballot box on May 4.
“This is a watershed moment in the history of Shrewsbury, as our town government will now have sufficient funding to provide the level and quality of services that our community expects over the next several years,” Shrewsbury Schools Superintendent Joseph Sawyer wrote in an email to the school community, sent immediately after unofficial results became available.
With the override passing, Sawyer said the school district will have a “much-improved and stable financial situation” for the next couple of years. Shrewsbury will not have to make any budget cuts next year.
Additionally, the district will be able to restore four positions of the approximately 30 positions that were cut across schools this year. Two of those are at Sherwood Middle School, and two are at Shrewsbury High School.
The largest source of revenue in Shrewsbury is property taxes.
Municipalities are generally able to increase property taxes by up to 2.5 percent a year under the state Proposition 2 ½ statute. But they can raise rates beyond 2.5 percent if voters approve an override, as just happened in Shrewsbury.
“We are extremely grateful to voters and look forward to opening the new Beal School as planned this fall, preserving our current educational staffing and programs, and enhancing municipal services to the benefit of all residents,” said Board of Selectmen Chair Beth Casavant.
She said the agreement between the Selectmen and School Committee offers an outline to a solution to the “structural deficit” challenging Shrewsbury budgets.
Prior to the vote on May 4, the last time Shrewsbury voters approved an override was in 2014. Before that, Shrewsbury’s first override request was in 2008, which voters struck down.
In addition to funding schools and municipal departments, money will be put aside in a stabilization account. The School Committee and Board of Selectmen have committed to no additional override questions for at least four years.
During an April 30 Superintendent’s Update, Sawyer said Shrewsbury was facing an “education emergency” not only because of the pandemic but also because of a “budget crisis” in terms of how the local government and the school district were funded.
For Shrewsbury schools, receiving revenue from the override now means the district will be able to maintain staffing and programming. Additionally, Sawyer said the district will be able to add staff to open the new Beal school and offer full-day, tuition-free kindergarten.
If the override had not passed, Sawyer said more positions would have had to been cut. Beal would not have been able to open as planned. Class sizes would have increased. Special subject programming would have decreased. Courses would have been cut at the high school level, and elementary media centers would have been closed.
“The difference between [no and yes] scenarios is gargantuan, and I could not be more pleased that our community said ‘Yes’ to supporting our schools and other town departments,” Sawyer wrote in his email.
Following the vote, Town Manager Kevin Mizikar wrote in an email to the Community Advocate that he was “grateful” for the override approval, which he said provides the town and schools with the resources to continue to provide services at expected levels.
“I do not take the trust that the residents have placed in us lightly,” Mizikar said. “I look forward to working with the Board of Selectmen to strategically move the Town forward.”