One Franklin Looks to Taxpayers to Support their Town
By Judith Dorato O’Gara
Inflation doesn’t just hit consumers at the grocery store. As prices go up, so does the cost of running town services. Parents, and especially students, see this at the school level, as belt-tightening requires educators to increasingly do more with less. During COVID, federal funds to schools softened this blow to Franklin, but now that those funds are gone, a group of citizens is asking Franklin to take a long hard look at better supporting the town.
The group, gaining visibility, is called One Franklin, and its aim is to pass a Proposition 2 ½ tax override, not a debt exclusion such as that for Tri-County’s new building, but a permanent commitment to supporting not just the schools, but all town services. Ruthann O’Sullivan, Chair of One Franklin, along with One Franklin Treasurer Ken Ojukwu, is newly leading effort, originally begun in 2019 by Dr. Anne Bergen, Roberta Trahan, Jim Roche.
O’Sullivan, a native of Natick, moved to Franklin in 2019, impressed by the town’s solid school district. She distinctly remembers, in about March of 2020, seeing “roughly 100 teachers with pink slips out on Route 140, sitting in solidarity.” Later, as she home-schooled during COVID, the self-described “civics nerd” with a legal and business finance background, became more acquainted with many of the district’s teachers and issues they face.
“The state isn’t going to come to our rescue,” says O’Sullivan, referring to Massachusetts Department of Secondary Education (DESE) Chapter 70 Funds to aid schools.
“When the state issues Chapter 70 funds, it’s largely weighted by property values and income. Franklin is not seen as a poor town, and so they expect towns like us to contribute more from a local level, and we have failed to pass an override for 16 years, and it’s caught up with us. It’s a real pivotal moment for the town. We are in the bottom 20% of per pupil funding in state, but the town’s wealth, based on land value and median income is in the top 20%.”
O’Sullivan points out that Rep. Roy successfully lobbied for an additional $11 million dollars on top of Ch. 70 funds, but “that’s not guaranteed, and it’s risky to depend on that money.”
“You have to take care of your schools to drive home values, and we’ve just been steadily eroding our school offerings,” says O’Sullivan, who believes the birthplace of Horace Mann “should be branded around education.” However, young, enthusiastic new hires in the school system, she says, “train here and (then) go to a district that support their local schools better.”
One Franklin is not just about the schools, says O’Sullivan. When schools can’t afford their needs, she says, “other departments have their budgets dipped into, which creates division and resentment. This is a real, operational override for the town of Franklin. It (would go) to public schools, police, fire, DPW and other departments, the library, senior center, the recreation department.”
Since the volunteers reignited One Franklin, their member list has grown from about 75 to about 270. At press time, the group’s Facebook page had 978 followers. O’Sullivan hopes to raise enthusiasm for the measure among all Franklin residents.
On top of spreading the word, an important step will be to come up with a solid figure of exactly how much is needed to ensure all factions of the town can operate to their best.
“Parents are the ones to push for an override, but every department is completely stressed and has no surplus. Ultimately, this is a decision for the residents of the community, and hence, a ballot question,” says Franklin Town Council Chair Tom Mercer. “It is the role of the Council to decide when that ballot question gets put on a ballot and what that number is, which I believe will be the most difficult part … trying to come up with a realistic, or passable, number.”
Mercer continues, “We certainly want to continue to provide the schools with the necessary funds to provide a proper education. The problem we have is Proposition 2 ½, and the fact that inflation has been growing at six, seven, eight percent rate over the past few years, and we’re only able to increase taxes by 2 ½ percent.” Additionally, says Mercer, new growth, which could bring in revenue, has been meager.
On March 6th, the Joint Budget Subcommittee will meet, and according to Mercer, will provide a better understanding of what financial needs will be for the town. This committee is comprised of a subcommittee of the Finance Committee, a subcommittee of the School Committee and a Subcommittee of the Town Council, all of which began the budget process in November.
“That will be a very important meeting for all of Franklin and certainly for One Franklin, because that’s where we will get into a lengthy discussion regarding the need for an override,” says Mercer. “Hopefully, the whole idea of that is to get one message to the community.”
O’Sullivan remains positive the town can come together.
“We are one town; we are one community; and we need to work together to solve our budget issues,” she says.
You can follow One Franklin’s progress at Onefranklinma.com, reach out to [email protected] or find them on Facebook.