Friday, May 3, 2002
It's a dilemma
Yes, I find myself in a dilemma. What I'm talking about is how I'm going to vote on the budget overrides at next week's Town Meeting, especially in this year of rising school expenses and lower state aid.
To set the record straight I must tell you that I'm a senior citizen who has lived in Carlisle since 1966. My children attended the Carlisle Schools and Concord-Carlisle High School (CCHS) where they received a fine education. My youngest son graduated from CCHS in 1986. My husband has not retired and I still work at the Mosquito.
Years ago, once my children were no longer in the school system, I promised myself I would not stop supporting the local schools. I've kept that promise. As I see it, if the quality of schools in Carlisle goes down, there are plenty of people living in this town who could easily send their children to private schools. That would mean the involvement and the commitment that many of those families had made to the schools and to the town in general would go elsewhere. That would have a major impact on the volunteerism that goes into making Carlisle the town that it has become.
On the other hand, I have heard of retired couples and individuals on fixed incomes, people of my generation, who say if taxes go up much higher, they will have to move out of town. Does this mean they will be selling their homes to a developer, who in turn will tear them down in order to build larger homes? Thus, will the diversity of this town be further diminished when the larger home goes on the market for over $1,000,000?
The 5.9% override adds $199,417 to the education budget, restoring full-day kindergarten, grade five foreign language, and other important programs. The 7% override adds another $126,000, including $44,000 for the regional high school that will reduce the expected mismatch between Carlisle and Concord.
Then what about the people who work at the Town Hall and for the department of public works (DPW) who are not part of a union that can negotiate for higher wages? The 5.9% override provides $187,743 more for the non-school budget. The 7% override adds another $26,000.
The "Circuit Breaker" idea that was being discussed a month ago seemed like a good idea for those whose property tax exceeded 7% of the income of any given household. Accordingly, that 7% would be accepted as full payment of the property tax for the year. Another way to reduce the burden on those least able to pay is to exempt the first $100,000 or $200,000 of property value from the tax, and raise the tax rate to make up the difference. Unfortunately, these ideas are prohibited under existing state law, but surely they deserve a serious look in coming years.
Despite my concerns for those on fixed incomes who find it harder and harder to pay their tax bills, I am more concerned about what will happen to Carlisle if we don't pass an override. Therefore, this year I will vote for the 7% override. Next year may be a different matter.
On racism in Carlisle
An article in last week's Mosquito observed that only three out of 15 who had enrolled showed up to discuss racial integration during a scheduled meeting at the Gleason Library. The tiny group nonetheless managed to cover a number of topics including a new vocabulary about race, a definition of the "American," controversies concerning affirmative action, and predictions for the future. If they followed the line that one finds in the popular press, they reached a gloomy consensus that racism is pervasive, that the races are growing farther apart, the rich growing richer and the poor poorer, and the miniscule turnout at their meeting is only further evidence of racism in Carlisle.
But I don't believe this conclusion is justified. I can think of dozens of other reasons that hardly anyone attended. For one thing, just about everything that can be said about race and race relations in America has already been said a hundred times over, so there is little left to learn. For another, dwelling on our weaknesses is never a pleasure. But most important of all, it seems to me that the problems between the races are already in the process of being solved at least to the extent that they can be solved by government actions. I have no doubt that racial animosities still linger in some hearts, but it is a rare bigot who has both the courage of his convictions and the willingness to display them. To do so is to reveal oneself as totally out of step with prevailing sentiment.
Moreover, trends for the future clearly indicate that racial disparities are disappearing. The Wall Street Journal has recently cited a number of figures from the Census 2000, showing the enormous economic progress made by African-Americans during the last two decades. For example, more blacks (51%) than whites (32%) reported that their economic situation had improved during the past year. Of course, one could sneer and say that that is only because blacks started from such a low base. But the Mosquito article said that African-American families earn on average 87% of the average amount earned by Euro-American families, which suggests that blacks are not very far behind.
To be sure, segregation still exists, but, according to Edward Glaeser, a demographer and economist at Harvard, there is less segregation today than there was in 1990 in all but 19 out of 291 metropolitan areas analyzed. In 1990, only about 50% of blacks over the age of 25 held a high school diploma; today that figure is 80%. In 1980, the black poverty rate was 36%; today it is 22%. In the light of conventional wisdom, these are startling statistics.
There is no doubt we have a distance to go, but we also have a right to take pride in the distance we have come. Carlisle still has only a handful of African-American families, who enrich all our lives, and, as the statistics above suggest, we will have more. For the most part, it is not racism that is holding things back, but rather a human resistance to change, typified perhaps by Carlisle's steady inability to arrange for affordable housing. Despite a series of reasonable proposals over the years, Carlisle citizens continue to vote them down. We really can do better. We need to get in step with the times.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito