IPSWICH — As he was heading into retirement this summer, then-Superintendent Rick Korb predicted an override would be needed to sustain the schools.
His prediction was spot on, as school officials are now preparing to make the case for such an override. The effort was announced briefly at a recent joint meeting of the School Committee, selectmen and Finance Committee.
An override would allow the town to raise property taxes over the limits of Proposition 21/2 and would mean a permanent tax increase.
This will be Superintendent Bill Hart’s first time presenting the school district’s budget, and overrides typically draw lots of controversy. Hart was hired in April to succeed Korb, who retired after 15 years.
“We are still very much in the discussion stage right now,” said Barry Hopping, School Committee chairman. “There has been no definitive number established.”
Hopping said even if the town were to level-fund the schools next year, there would be a $1.5 million deficit.
“There would be reductions across the board with staffing and programs,” he said. “For too long, we’ve just been getting by, and it is time that we put our school district in a better place for the future.”
Hopping said the School Committee is developing a price tag for an override that would sustain the school district for at least five years. The number could be announced as early as mid-January, he said.
“We are trying to put the town in a better financial situation instead of going back to the town year after year asking for more money,” he said.
An override will require a two-thirds majority vote at Town Meeting and a simple majority at an election to follow.
The last time Ipswich voters approved such an override was for $1.5 million in 2008. Before that, voters had not approved a school operating budget override since Proposition 21/2 went into effect in 1981. There had been three requests since 2002 before the override passed in 2008.
That override added 55 cents to the property tax rate, tacking about $192 onto the yearly bill for the owner of a $350,000 home. Without an exact number established, it is difficult to know how taxpayers will be affected under this request.
Hopping said there has been a “very positive” response from other town officials.
“We all accept the fact that the schools are facing a major financial challenge as they put together their budget for next year,” said Selectman Bill Craft. “There really aren’t many options.”
He said trying to avoid the $1.5 million deficit by cutting municipal and school services would be devastating. While Craft no longer has kids in the school system, he said education is an important investment.
“The better the schools, the more likely people are to buy a house here,” he said, adding that a good school system is part of the economic development of the town.
Hopping said the School Committee will work to make sure all the boards and residents in town are informed about details of the override moving forward.
“Our hope is that if we educate the residents and the reasons we need this override, we are hoping to minimize push-back,” Hopping said. “There is so much work we need to do.”
Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.