DRACUT -- The war of words and signs being waged by Stand Up for Dracut against the Committee for No Override over the proposed $2.9 million Proposition 2 1/2 override escalated again Wednesday, after the "No" group missed Tuesday's campaign-finance report filing deadline.
Stand Up for Dracut's six-page finance report, which Treasurer Michele Green submitted to Town Clerk Kathy Graham Aug. 22 -- well ahead of the state-mandated deadline of eight days before the Sept. 9 election -- showed that since May 9, the school-parent led pro-override group has raised $5,015, spent $2,872, and had $2,142 remaining.
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Committee for No Override founder Ted Kosiavelon said his organization planned to submit its paperwork to Graham by this morning. When filed, the Committee for No Override's finance report will show a fundraising total of $5,600 and expenditures totaling about $6,000, Kosiavelon said.
"I'm not ducking anything.
McNamara took exception to the anti-override group's failure to file its finance report on time.
"They've all run for office before; they know it's a law that every group has to follow, whether you're a candidate or a ballot committee, that eight days before an election and 30 days after, you file a report, and not doing it is thumbing your nose at the public," said McNamara. "Instead, they're too busy talking about signs that they can't get their financial report done in time."
McNamara said he found it ironic that "no" group leaders had failed to comply with the law on the same day Kosiavelon and fellow override opponents, Selectmen John Zimini and Joe DiRocco, were making allegations to The Sun's editorial board that override supporters have engaged in "illegal" activities.
Zimini and Kosiavelon told the editorial board on Wednesday that 165 "no" signs were removed or stolen from residents' properties in the past month, including two instances that were captured on surveillance videos they shared with The Sun.
Zimini faulted the School Committee and Stand Up for Dracut's leaders for not coaching override supporters to behave properly. Zimini and DiRocco also suggested those engaging in sign-stealing, anonymous mailings and verbal harassment of "no" voters were taking their cue from School Committee members who act like spoiled children, expecting to be handed whatever they demand.
"At one time, I had been willing to consider a $1.3 million override or at least a menu (of varying override amounts) on the ballot, only to be told by a School Committee member they're going to go for the $2.9 million because they thought they had the votes," said DiRocco. "To me, that's pigheaded. A piece of the pie is always better than no pie."
Zimini, speaking as a father, youth hockey coach of 40 years, and longtime mentor to inner-city Boston schoolchildren within his legal profession, noted that no one could paint him as "anti-education," but the override request was "too much on top of everything else," he said.
"I supported the $65 million renovation of Dracut High School, and the $45 million for Greater Lowell Tech, because it was bricks and mortar and we knew those schools were in disrepair," said Zimini. "But to go out and impose this override for operating expenses, which is forever, to me is just wrong."
Zimini and DiRocco said a majority of Dracut voters would likely have supported a one-time debt exclusion to give the school district its requested $850,000 technology upgrade, separate from an override.
"I watched every one of the School Committee's meetings, and during one of their debates on whether to go for the $2.9 million I heard one member say, on tape, 'We should go for $5 million,' because they're thinking they can get it," said Zimini. "It was the total wrong approach to be hitting people when they're most vulnerable, coming very slowly out of a recession."
Zimini said he moved to Dracut 19 years ago mainly because of Dracut's reputation for having an affordable tax rate. He predicted that on Sept. 9 a sizable majority of voters will join him in voting to preserve the town's "conservative spending habit."
"We're cautiously, optimistically confident," Zimini said of Monday' special election. "But if you, or any other 'no' voters out there stay home, thinking, 'Hey, there's a lot of "no" signs out there, I can stay home,' you may wake up Tuesday morning and find out 'no' lost. And then you'll be kicking yourself in the pants."
DiRocco shared Zimini's concern that overconfidence among "no" voters could lower that side's turnout on Monday. "That's my biggest fear, that people will think something isn't going to pass and they don't go out to vote," DiRocco said.
Kosiavelon expects a turnout of 7,500 Dracut voters Monday, with at least 4,000 voting no, he predicted.
"My voicemail is full every day with people requesting more 'no' signs; I wish I had the money to buy another 500, but signs aren't going to win this election," Kosiavelon said. "People being informed is what's going to win us this election."
Finally, there was a statement Stand Up for Dracut and Committee for No Override agree on.
"All the signs on Nashua Road that were for the 'yes' side on the override went missing, and did we make a big deal of it?" said McNamara. "No, we replaced them and moved on to focus on the real issue in this election, which is funding our schools the way they should be, so we can provide a quality education to the students of Dracut."
According to a breakdown provided by School Superintendent Steven Stone, in the first year the district would use $850,000 of the $2.9 million override amount for a technology upgrade; $1.8 million to hire 33 employees, including 27 who would work directly with students. About $200,000 would be spent on textbooks and instructional materials, Stone said.
Graham, the town clerk, said as of Wednesday 500 voters had cast absentee ballots for the special election, a record number for a nonpresidential election.
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