DRACUT -- For more than 30 years, Ted Kosiavelon, owner of Ted's Construction & Sons remodeling company, routinely worked 14-hour days and took only modest vacations to support his family and pay thousands of dollars per year toward his children's private-school tuition, he said.

So today, as lead spokesman for the citizens group opposing the proposed $2.9 million override of Proposition 2 1/2 to boost education funding, Kosiavelon, 61, believes he's earned the right to tell School Committee members they haven't worked hard or long enough to find the best solution to the school district's budget problem.

"It's simply not affordable. We have enough taxes already," said Kosiavelon, chairman of the Committee for No Override, in an interview at his Vermont Avenue home.

On Kosiavelon's lawn he'd staked one of about 300 yellow, black and red "Vote no on $2.9M override" signs which he and other committee members began placing around town at the end of July, more than five weeks ahead of the special election, over the vocal protestations of override proponents.

Kosiavelon said School Committee Chairman Michael McNamara, a lead supporter of the override effort, confronted him as he was installing a sign on Hildreth Street, with McNamara citing a Dracut bylaw that asks political candidates to hold off from posting signs until 30 days before an election. Kosiavelon said Town Counsel Jim Hall told him that as long as the signs are not on town property and do not exceed size limitations, the town's bylaw is unenforceable and unconstitutional because it violates one's right of free speech and expression.

"Jim Hall told us that we were putting these signs up legally, and we'll continue to do it," Kosiavelon said.

McNamara could not be reached for comment on the signs dispute on Friday.

The hotly debated override question will appear on a Sept. 9 special referendum ballot, asking taxpayers to permanently increase their taxes to provide an extra $2.9 million to the schools. The money will be spent on retaining or hiring 32 essential employees; staffing and maintaining a renovated high school; and spending $650,000 to upgrade technology, school officials said. (Selectmen have placed a second question on the ballot, asking voters for $200,000 to increase spending for police, fire and public works.)

In the past week, Kosiavelon said at least 75 anti-override signs had disappeared around town from locations where landowners gave permission for them to be installed. At $5.30 per sign charged by the printer, Kosialvelon said it amounts to $420 worth of signs gone missing. He reported the sign thefts to fellow override opponent and Selectman John Zimini, who in turn filed a formal complaint with Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand, Zimini said.

"There's really not much the police can do unless we can identify who is responsible by catching someone in the act," said Zimini. "In one instance, neighbors saw a couple of kids taking them off a front lawn and some of those signs, six or seven, were later found in a (trash container) behind the Englesby School. But there is a heightening awareness of this happening, and eventually someone is going to get caught."

Zimini added, "it's ridiculous we're talking about signs, when the real issue that needs to be debated is the $2.9 million override."

Kosiavelon, who currently serves on the Dracut Cable Committee, noted his Committee for No Override represents a joining of former political foes, as Zimini defeated Kosiavelon in two elections for a seat on the Board of Selectmen.

In this campaign, Zimini vowed to campaign with Kosiavelon "full-bore" against the override over the next five weeks, "just because I don't think the School Committee has done enough homework to fix their spending problem," the selectman said.

Kosiavelon said he enlisted Zimini's help in wording a one-page informational handout that the Committee for No Override is distributing to voters. It includes several bullet points opposing the measure that would add about $400 to the average Dracut property taxpayer's annual bill.

The committee's leading argument is that "the plan for the override is to use most of the money for operating costs that are in every budget each year, not for a one-time expenditure," Kosiavelon said. "I look at this Prop. 2 1/2 override (request) as being really dangerous."

Secondly, Kosiavelon cited "the extreme, all-or-nothing approach" taken by School Committee members McNamara, Joe Wilkie and Dan O'Connell, who "started out looking for $1.3 million, jumped to $1.8 million, and finally leaped up to $2.9 million," he said. "Why couldn't they have taken a little bit now, then ask for more later? Doing anything drastically like this is no good."

According to the Committee for No Override's research, "49.9 percent of Dracut residents are over the age of 55," a population segment that would be most hard-pressed to pay for an override "on top of the annual 2.5 percent annual increase in taxes that is automatically built into the budget," Zimini writes. "These elderly, who are on fixed incomes, face choices every day whether to buy groceries, pay the electric bill, water bill, sewer bill, or even buy medications."

Also, the timing of the override request on the town level couldn't be worse "because we're already dealing with tax increases on the federal and state levels," stated Zimini. "We have a new meals tax, higher gas tax, sewer rates are going up, excise tax, the override for of the Greater Lowell Technical High School, the new Dracut High School building and renovations. How much can a taxpayer take?"

Another question related to the Great $2.9 Million Override Debate of 2013 that could be posed to Dracut residents could be: Just how many override campaign signs can you plant in August?

"I guarantee you that by after Aug. 9 the 'yes' group is going to have a lot more signs out than the 'no' group," Zimini predicted. "You might even have some locations that have 'vote no' and 'vote yes" signs in the same place, just because some homeowners don't like to say no."

Both the Committee for No Override and school-parent led pro-override group Stand Up for Dracut have scheduled events this week and next, inviting the public to attend, discuss the issue, and contribute toward each group's informational campaign.

Stand Up for Dracut is hosting a rally on Wednesday beginning at 7 p.m., at Four Oaks Country Club.

"If you've been asking yourself the following questions: Why $2.9 million? How will the money be used? How much will it cost me? What exactly does 'no layoffs' mean? Join us to hear the answers to these questions and many more," the SUFD flyer states.

In turn, Kosiavelon invited override opponents to attend the Committee for No Override's sole fundraising event on Thursday, Aug. 15, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Village Inn.

Delivering the latest blow against the $2.9 million override's chances of passage, Selectman Tony Archinski announced in a letter to the editor to The Sun this week that he plans to vote "no" on the question on his Sept. 9 ballot.

"I supported the (Dracut) High School renovation project, and co-chaired the Friends of Greater Lowell Technical High School group which brought that project to fruition, however, after research and careful reflection I have decided I cannot support the $2.9 million dollar tax increase for our schools," Archinski wrote, in part.

That said, Archinski added he will not actively campaign for either side.

Archinski's declaration makes four of five board members who have spoken publicly against the $2.9 million override, including Selectmen Joe DiRocco, Zimini and Chairwoman Cathy Richardson. Only Selectman Bob Cox has been noncommittal on his ballot vote to date.

On the School Committee, four of five members are actively supporting a "yes" vote on the override: Betsy Murphy, McNamara, Wilkie and O'Connell. School Committee member Matthew Sheehan has stated the added tax burden from the override is more than the average taxpayer can afford.

Follow John Collins on Twitter at johncolowellsun.