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‘This is a once in a generation opportunity’: Local teachers canvass for Fair Share Amendment

Joel Patterson, a math teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, left information at a home on Richard Avenue while canvassing for Question 1.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

CAMBRIDGE — Instead of cooking his favorite meal or hiking with his family, Joel Patterson, a Cambridge math teacher, spent a recent weekend afternoon walking the streets of local neighborhoods, going door-to-door advocating for change he believes will benefit public education in Massachusetts.

Patterson, who teaches at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, is one of many local educators canvassing for Question 1, a ballot measure that supporters call the Fair Share Amendment. If it passes in November, the measure would amend the state Constitution to create a 9 percent income tax rate on annual earnings above $1 million, while retaining the broad 5 percent rate for earnings below that amount.

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On the recent Sunday, Patterson was among a dozen canvassers who fanned out around Cambridge to explain to voters why they should support the amendment. After politely knocking on the door of one North Cambridge homeowner, Patterson introduced himself as a neighbor and local educator and outlined how the Fair Share Amendment could improve schools and public transit. He offered the resident a pamphlet with additional information and asked if he could count on the resident’s vote in November.

Once the resident understood that the measure would place additional taxes only on the state’s wealthiest residents, he seemed enthusiastically supportive. Patterson said the majority of residents he has spoken with have championed the amendment.

“By making a state amendment, we created a dedicated source of funding that can benefit education for every kid,” said Patterson, 49. “I think this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make Massachusetts a better place.”

Last year, the Massachusetts Teachers Association partnered with Fair Share for Massachusetts, a committee campaigning for the amendment, to organize canvassing teams around the state, a spokesperson for the committee said. As Election Day draws near, MTA members are using this summer to visit thousands of residents to tout the benefits of voting “yes” on the proposal.

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Opponents, including some business leaders, believe the so-called millionaire’s tax would harm entrepreneurs and doesn’t ensure revenue will be allocated to public transit and schools. Others believe everyone should pay equal tax rates despite varying income.

“Massachusetts is overloaded with massive amounts of tax funds sitting in the State House waiting to be spent appropriately, and we have unwillingness on the part of the state Legislature to extend those funds in ways that are broadly beneficial to the state,” said Edward Roberts, a professor and founder and chair of the Center for MIT Entrepreneurship.

But Patterson is convinced the amendment is beneficial, and missing the opportunity to enact the ballot measure would be neglectful to the state’s public schools. The tax revenue could provide funding to upgrade public schools across the state, especially in rural school districts, Patterson said.

“There are a lot of schools that could use funding for better heating, ventilation, and air conditioning,” Patterson said.

Revenue from the surtax could also create more equitable schools for students with a variety of educational needs, such as English-language learners, he said.

Another canvasser for the teachers union, Karen Suttle, a social worker at Garfield Elementary School in Revere, visited regions of Massachusetts she’s never seen before. Suttle canvassed for hours every day between July 6 and Aug. 11, and she said most people were receptive to the ballot measure after she addressed their misconceptions.

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Suttle said most people who initially oppose the ballot proposal did not know that the 4 percentage point increase to the statewide 5 percent personal income tax would apply only to every dollar residents earn annually after their first million, not their entire income. According to a January Tufts University study, as of 2019, only 0.6 percent of Massachusetts residents have a personal income greater than $1 million.

Once skeptics understand that the tax increase would affect very few residents, Suttle said, they’re on board.

If the ballot measure passes, Suttle said, she hopes the money will be used to hire more staff in schools, pay them livable wages, and ensure that students have all the physical supplies and personnel they need to succeed.

“We need more boots on the ground,” she said in a phone interview. “We need more social workers. We need more nurses. We need more teachers.”

John Rimas, a history and civics teacher at Watertown High School, also canvasses in support of the Fair Share Amendment. He said it’s been a great opportunity to meet teachers from other districts and work toward a common goal.

Rimas feels his identity as a teacher gives him credibility with voters. Because he explains the benefits of the amendment from the perspective of someone who works in public education, Rimas said, people have been more likely to trust him and support the ballot measure.

“Overall, it’s been overwhelmingly positive and people seem to really like the idea,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to ... make us the great educational place that we are already, but even better.”

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Katie Mogg can be reached at katie.mogg@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @j0urnalistkatie