Essex Westford School District residents will continue to see a breakdown of their budget votes by community after defeating a proposal last week that would have combined ballots among Essex Town, Essex Jct. and Westford.
Considered at the district’s annual meeting April 10, the measure would have produced a single vote total for all EWSD’s Australian ballot questions starting next year, meaning residents wouldn’t know how each community voted.
Voters failed the measure by a standing count of 31 to 25. EWSD board members Kim Gleason and Andre Roy opposed, as well as Patrick Murray, who was elected to the board the following day.
Board chairwoman Martha Heath said although the board didn’t take a position, some members viewed commingling as a symbol of unity. Personally, she hoped to avoid animosity based on how each community voted on issues.
“For me, it’s about knowing the results across the whole school district, because we are a single school district,” Heath said. “We are not separate.”
The change would have aligned EWSD’s practices with the U46 school district, in which town and village votes are commingled for the high school’s budget, Heath said.
Many who spoke in opposition, like Essex Town resident Jody Landon, said the proposal limited transparency and would make it harder to address conflicts, adding she finds it useful knowing how her neighbors voted in state and national elections.
“I’m curious why it wouldn’t be equally useful for me to know … how people in Westford were feeling about something that might affect them different than it affects me,” Landon said.
Essex Town’s Barbara Higgins said commingling would also hinder the board’s ability to refocus its efforts on issues that are voted down.
Heath said the board believes conversations leading up to the budget votes usually make the position of each community clear.
Westford’s Eric Ford, the only resident to speak in favor of commingling, said voting against it is choosing to continue an “us vs. them mentality.”
“We voted to be unified, and we should act that way,” Ford said.
He acknowledged that votes aggregated to the district level inevitably affect Westford differently since it’s the district’s smallest community.
Westford residents represent only 1,628 of the district’s 18,236 registered voters, and though its voter turnout percentage doubled both Essex Town and Essex Jct. in last week’s elections, just 202 of the 1,224 ballots cast on the EWSD budget came from Westford.
Still, Ford said commingling is an important piece of unification, which he fully supports.
“There’s too much divisiveness already in politics. This is a way to perhaps get rid of some of that,” he said.
Essex Town resident Paul Austin wasn’t convinced. He said disagreements aren’t fixed by masking the problem.
“We’re grown-ups,” Austin said. “We can take the fact that somebody in the village or Westford doesn’t think the way we do.”