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Boston voters approve budget reform, elected school committee ballot questions, reject East Boston electrical facility

Heshan Berents-Weeramuni held a Yes On 3 sign outside the Roxbury polling location at Higginson-Lewis School.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Along with choosing a new mayor and city councilors, Boston voters on Tuesday approved ballot questions to change the city’s budget process and to restore an elected school committee.

They also rejected the construction of an electrical facility in East Boston, according to early voting returns.

More than two out of three voters supported Question 1, a binding referendum asking whether the city should overhaul its budget process, giving city councilors more sway over the city’s purse strings. With 94.90 percent of precincts reporting at 11:41 p.m., 68,495 voters said yes to the changes and 33,205 said no.

In other returns, residents overwhelmingly rejected Question 2, a nonbinding measure that asked voters if they support a controversial electrical substation planned for East Boston. With 94.90 percent of precincts reporting, there were 85,152 votes against the substation and 16,900 votes in its support.

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Nearly four out of five voters said yes to Question 3, a nonbinding referendum that asked if the existing appointed School Committee structure should be changed to a School Committee elected by city residents. With 94.90 percent of precincts reporting, 79.26 percent of voters said yes to electing committee members and 20.74 percent opposed it.

The proposed revamping of Boston’s budget process would allow the City Council to modify appropriations, as long as its revised budget does not exceed the amount originally proposed by the mayor. Under the city’s current structure, which has frustrated councilors for years, the council can approve or deny the mayor’s proposed budget but can transfer funds only if the mayor requests it.

This measure would allow the mayor to accept or reject the council’s version of the budget and amend any line item in that version. The council would be able to override the mayor’s veto or amendments by a two-thirds vote.

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The proposal, which would take effect for next year’s budget process, also would create an independent Office of Participatory Budgeting with an external oversight board.

Armani White, director of campaigns at the Center for Economic Democracy, a proponent of the ballot question, said in a statement Tuesday night that the measure’s apparent success at the polls “is a popular mandate for progress led by Boston residents across the city.”

“A budget is a value statement that should reflect all of it’s city’s residents and today, we helped bring democracy to life by claiming our voice in the budget process,” White said.

Andres Del Castillo, executive director of Right to the City Boston and cochairman of the campaign supporting the ballot question, said in the statement that supporters are “looking forward to making sure all voices are heard in our budget process moving forward.”

Critics have said the ballot initiative could lead to a chaotic budget process.

Pam Kocher, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said the city’s finances are some of the strongest in the country, allowing it to continue to provide community services in difficult times and making it competitive with other larger cities.

“Let’s not break the system just to placate a few loud voices,” she told the Globe last week.

Opponents of the electrical substation under consideration in Question 2 have said that East Boston, already home to Logan International Airport and numerous industrial sites, is heavily burdened with environmental issues.

John Walkey, who lives in East Boston and works for GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based environmental justice group, told the Globe last week that he hoped the referendum would serve as “one more arrow in the quiver” in the fight to block the project.

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Eversource, the utility behind the project, has said the substation is necessary to meet the growing demand for electricity in East Boston and has dismissed flooding concerns.

An Eversource spokesman said the “much-needed substation is critical to ensuring that we can continue to safely and reliably serve our customers in East Boston,” the Globe reported last week.

Proponents of Question 3 say allowing residents to vote to select the School Committee, instead of having members appointed by the mayor, would empower communities of color to hold school officials accountable.

As votes were still being counted, Bostonians for an Elected School Committee, the group that put the measure on the ballot, declared victory, saying the vote made it “crystal clear” that city residents want to elect the committee’s members.

“Bostonians clearly believe that the current system with School Committee members appointed by the mayor does not serve them well, and after 30 years of experience with an appointed School Committee, the voters have overwhelmingly rejected it,” the group said in a statement.

Although the referendum is purely advisory, a victory at the polls could compel the new mayor to surrender control of the seven-member School Committee.

In recent years, the body has increasingly provoked controversy beyond approving budget cuts and school closings and has been mired in embarrassing missteps.

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Two School Committee chairs and another member have resigned in the past year after making racially insensitive comments, while a student representative also quit out of frustration that student concerns weren’t being taken seriously, among other issues.

Jeri Robinson, chairwoman of the School Committee, recently defended her board’s record in improving academic programs and increasing public engagement, the Globe reported.

“We have heard hours of public testimony and we have changed our approach based on what we have heard,” she said in a statement.

Any changes to the School Committee’s governance would require approval of a home-rule petition from the council, mayor, Legislature, and governor. It’s unclear whether voters will have another opportunity to weigh in on the matter officially after Tuesday’s vote.



Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him @jeremycfox.