UPPER NEWTON LOWER FALLS, Mass. In this western suburb of Boston, a high-quality school system is both a magnet that draws families to move here and the glue that holds the community together. “We’re united in our desire to give our kids the best education possible,” says Marci Roth, a mother of three. “The only thing we don’t agree on is how much to pay for it.”
That debate has been sparked by the defeat of a property tax increase to fund a new high school whose original price tag was $140 million, but which ballooned to $2.3 billion when a domed Ultimate Frisbee facility and latte cup holders on each desk were added.
“I suppose if we have to make a choice between eating and a new school building, cat food is just as good as chuck roast,” says Donald Schweitzer, a lawyer who supported the override. “It helps to keep property values up.”
But others, especially retirees on fixed incomes, became vocal in their opposition, showing up at city council meetings to express their concerns. “Why should we pay for a state-of-the-art film production lab and soundstage for a bunch of snot-nosed kids when I can’t afford to rent a movie at Blockbuster?” asks Ethel Standish, who has lived here all her life.
The defeat caught City Council members by surprise. “In the past it was easy to marginalize the tax-cutters,” says Elaine Zuckerman. “They wear dentures and tend to be hard of hearing, so they’re easy to make fun of.” Zuckerman says she will propose that the city acquire a slightly-used Death Star in order to ensure that tax opponents don’t get the upper hand again.
“I’m all for free speech and that sort of thing,” says George Goetz, an at-large councilor who supports the purchase. “But if you don’t sit down after your three minutes are up, we are entitled to destroy your American-model sedan with the busted tail light in the City Hall parking lot.”
“Death Stars” are fictional planet-destroying space stations that appeared in several “Star Wars” movies and were used by Darth Vader’s Galactic Empire to dominate Luke Skywalker’s Rebel Alliance. Prototypes constructed for “Return of the Jedi” offered for sale on eBay and other internet auction sites have been snapped up by tax-raising municipalities because the Department of Homeland Security has blocked their export.
Opponents of the school say they will continue to oppose an increase in real estate taxes despite the advantage that the Death Star will give city officials. “I don’t get out much since my wife died, and City Council meetings are free entertainment,” says Norbert Wilbur, a retired insurance agent. “Having that big Death Star shooting at you makes the drive home more exciting, and gives me an excuse for weaving all over the road if I get pulled over.”
Copyright 2008, Con Chapman