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March 12 Override Vote

March 12 override vote - why this Newton native and mother of 3, who voted NO in 2008, is voting YES this time around

As anyone who is paying attention knows, on March 12 Newton voters will be given the opportunity to vote on 3 override votes: 2 debt exclusions (to build new Cabot and Angier schools) and an operating override, to pay for renovating/expanding Zervas school, hiring new teachers and cops, a revamped fire station, and sidewalk and road repair.

I voted against the last override in 2008, but will be voting yes on all 3 of these votes.

I voted no last time because I felt the money would not “solve the problem” but instead exacerbate it by throwing good money after bad. Especially since at that time school costs were rising at an average of nearly 6% a year, while our city revenue rise is capped at 2.5% a year, I thought “Why should anyone give them more money until they show us they can set a sustainable budget?”  Then on top of that to have built an extravagant high school without establishing a budget ahead of time, at a time when my son could not wash his hands after going to the bathroom because none of the faucets in the boys bathroom worked (and I had to raise hell to get them repaired), I thought whoever was in charge of our city was not equipped to spend the existing money well, much less giving them more.

So I am very sympathetic to those who are angry about the cost of the new North, to those who are angry that we sold off all those elementary and middle schools years ago, and to those who are angry that we underfunded building maintenance for so long.

However I genuinely believe that things have changed. Most importantly, we have a new mayor who seems to have a better grasp of arithmetic, because for the first time in many years, he negotiated agreements with all 10 city unions in which costs, including health care costs, rise no more than 2.5% a year. The reason that is such a monumental achievement is that salaries and benefits comprise over 80% of the school budget… so getting that under control was basically solving the problem. In addition we have privatized the foodservice, which we used to have to subsidize at a million dollars a year but now breaks even.

In addition, the needs are real. Our student population is exploding: we have added nearly 600 kids in the last three years -- the equivalent of two elementary schools -- without opening any new schools. And we have over 800 more kids slated to arrive over the next 5 years.   We have installed numerous modular classrooms as a “short term” fix that in some cases have been there for twenty years. Cabot and Angier are a disgrace, but will be rebuilt with greater capacity. Zervas will be renovated with greater capacity.  It’s really not right for kids with special needs to be receiving services in closets and hallways, but that’s what we have now. And the operating override will allow more teachers to be hired to teach these hundreds more kids that are coming.

Will money get wasted somehow? Undoubtedly. There will still be human beings in charge after all. But I just wanted to share my perspective as someone who has a healthy dose of skepticism about the need for higher taxes, and as someone who attends every School Committee meeting so is paying pretty close attention, I will be voting yes on all 3 overrides and feel that the need is real and that it is truly an investment in the city I grew up in, and where I returned to raise my own kids.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jerry Reilly February 18, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Emily - I didn't live in Newton when the last override was debated. I find that folks like you, who publicly opposed the last override, are the most compelling voices in the current debate. I'm also struck by how the opponents of this override aren't offering any practical, credible plans on how to address the obvious problems that need addressing in the city, particularly the schools. As best as I can tell, their main suggestion is punt for a few more years, hope that the next time all the union contracts expire that all city wages can be freezed, and hope that somehow we can later get the state to pick up the same share of costs for what will inevitably be even bigger cost of future construction. Rather than "moving newton forward", this sounds like a plan for ensuring a downward trajectory in our schools for years to come.
Moving Newton Forward February 21, 2013 at 04:04 AM
"their main suggestion is punt for a few more years, hope that the next time all the union contracts expire" Actually, municipal union contracts expire June 2014 and School Contracts expire August 2014. If we froze compensation for 18 months after the expiration of those contracts, we could begin the buildings and infrastructure related projects on September 1, 2014 (First Quarter of FY 2015) and we can begin the other projects on July 1, 2015. "hope that somehow we can later get the state to pick up the same share of costs for what will inevitably be even bigger cost of future construction." Burlington built a new school in 2011 without an override and the MSBA still provided a generous subsidy in excess of 50%. Our choice is between high quality school buildings and fat pay packages for government workers. "that all city wages can be freezed" Compensation accounts for 80% of the budget. Newton residents have paid for school buildings, streets, sidewalks and other capital equipment. Newton residents have also paid for maintenance and capital rehabilitation services but the money was spent elsewhere, such as Newton North and generous pay packages for city workers. Instead of forcing taxpayers to pay more money, lets cut back on elsewhere (such as salary growth for overpaid government workers).
Moving Newton Forward February 21, 2013 at 04:17 AM
Jerry, WRT "I'm also struck by how the opponents of this override aren't offering any practical, credible plans on how to address the obvious problems that need addressing in the city, particularly the schools. " We have 538 non-resident children in our school system and their parents do not pay any taxes to Newton for their education. We found that if we closed our doors to non-resident schoolchildren (except those who are "tuitioned-in" from their home district), that would have offset the vaunted enrollment growth that has occurred from 2002-13 by about half. Those non-resident schoolchildren cost Newton $7.1M annually net of federal and state aid. We allow non-resident students to come to Newton Public Schools under five different programs. These programs enable their home districts to save over $7M annually and we should be recovering those costs instead of forcing Newton taxpayers to pay more money. Can someone explain to us why school enrollment only increased by 10.6% during the last 11 years yet educational spending increased by 60%. We had a meeting with Mayor Warren and his leadership team and we found that 84% of the school's budget goes to compensation. Annual school spending increased by $66.8M from 2002 to 2013. Why does the school need an additional $9.2M on top of the $66.8M in annual spending increases it already received? Is it because it spent 84% of the $66.8M in spending increases on pay and benefits?
Janet Sterman February 21, 2013 at 09:48 PM
@Gerry, looks like you have been left, speechless, no?
Jerry Reilly February 22, 2013 at 04:02 PM
Ganet - speechless? me? No, you've got the wrong guy. You must be thinking of that Jerry with a G guy ;-) Someone just told me that someone had commented to my comments - so let me respond. The statistics above try to discredit the claims of the current administration's fiscal responsibility by using 10 year statistics to include the previous profligate administration. Likewise the comments about non-resident (mostly METCO) students are raised to imply that we could save 7.1 million and avoid an override if we just dealt with this issue. Left out, is where the 7.1 million number comes from and why others peg that number at about 1% of that. Left out is that ending METCO today wouldn't save any money immediately unless you booted all current METCO kids out the door - which nobody's proposing. Let's by all means have a discussion about METCO and its costs, but raising it as the answer to the override is a red herring. My observation about "Moving Newton Forward" is that they seem to be generating a fire house of information and mis-information and just trying to see what sticks. The objections they've been raising are all over the map and change continuously. They don't want taxes to go up. I get that. Neither do I, but I support the override nevertheless..
Moving Newton Forward February 22, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Jerry, We are not discrediting the claims of the current administration. However, spending has rapidly increased since the last override was passed. Three years of 3% annual spending growth under Mayor Warren is not enough to forget about the rapid spending growth that took place under Cohen. "Likewise the comments about non-resident (mostly METCO) students are raised to imply that we could save 7.1 million and avoid an override if we just dealt with this issue." Suburban school districts save Boston Public Schools $60M annually by educating 3,184 Boston resident kids in their school districts through the METCO program (142 METCO kids live in Springfield and attend suburban districts in Western Massachusetts). http://www.doe.mass.edu/metco/funding.html "Let's by all means have a discussion about METCO and its costs, but raising it as the answer to the override is a red herring." Would the METCO program experience change in any way, shape or form for the METCO kids if the City of Boston was to send us a $7M check every year for the METCO program? That would be a sufficient funding source to cover the following spending programs sought by the override: $1.7M for Zervas $1.7M for Cabot $1.3M for Angier $1.0M for streets and sidewalks $.7M for fire department upgrades $.5M for new cops
Moving Newton Forward February 22, 2013 at 06:49 PM
Janet, our observation of the pro-override crowd is that they resort to misinformation, misrepresentation, and impugning the character of the individuals and groups who are opposed to more taxes and spending. The city would still see its revenue and spending increase by $8M annually even if the extravagantly expensive overrides failed. Maybe instead of using all of it for pay raises and benefit spending, maybe they should use that to fund these "unmet infrastructure needs" instead of forcing taxpayers to pay more money.
Jerry Reilly February 22, 2013 at 07:09 PM
No impugning anyone's character here. I have no doubt that anti-override folks are just as committed to the well being of the city as the pro-override folks. I just happen to disagree with them.
Geoffrey N Epstein February 22, 2013 at 11:06 PM
The following comment by MNF is completely bogus: "Those non-resident schoolchildren cost Newton $7.1M annually net of federal and state aid." By my reckoning it might cost us $0.5M but needs a proper review as we have done for other programs such as SPED. The MNF argument is a complete red herring!
Walter Jones February 22, 2013 at 11:57 PM
"Suburban school districts save Boston Public Schools $60M annually by educating 3,184 Boston resident kids in their school districts through the METCO program (142 METCO kids live in Springfield and attend suburban districts in Western Massachusetts). " That does not mean that it costs suburban school systems $60M to educate the 3,184 kids. If your $7.1M estimate is based on that incorrect assumption, your $7.1M figure is also not correct.
Moving Newton Forward February 23, 2013 at 02:02 AM
Geoff and Walter, since Boston saves $60M annually by sending its 3,184 kids to suburban schools and Newton helps Boston save more than $7M annually by educating Boston kids in Newton Public Schools, we need to have a frank discussion as to what Boston should be paying Newton to educate Boston kids in Newton Public Schools. Boston has $1.3B in cash and marketable security holdings as of the end of FY 2012 and can certainly afford to either spend $7M to educate their kids in their school system or pay us to educate their kids in our school system. http://www.cityofboston.gov/Images_Documents/CityBoston-CAFR-612_tcm3-35324.pdf Geoff and Walter, we disagree with your assessment of the cost of educating non-resident schoolchildren in Newton Public Schools and our upcoming column next week will show why we disagree with the modeling approach used by your side.
Walter Jones February 23, 2013 at 03:06 AM
"since Boston saves $60M annually by sending its 3,184 kids to suburban schools and Newton helps Boston save more than $7M annually by educating Boston kids in Newton Public Schools, we need to have a frank discussion as to what Boston should be paying Newton to educate Boston kids in Newton Public Schools." That is a very different statement than: ""Those non-resident schoolchildren cost Newton $7.1M annually net of federal and state aid." The latter implied that Newton spends $7.1M on METCO kids, which is misleading. You need to be more precise in your posts. Its a pattern that is concerning. There is little credibility in your analyses when you continually make important errors in your statements.
Walter Jones February 23, 2013 at 03:09 AM
"Walter, we disagree with your assessment of the cost of educating non-resident schoolchildren in Newton Public Schools and our upcoming column next week will show why we disagree with the modeling approach used by your side." You know nothing about my opinions or "my side." I have only made comments pointing out the continued flawed thinking, inaccurate statements and poor analysis in your posts. I have made no affirmative statements on my own opinions. Stop assuming things that you don't know. Its a troubling pattern.
Geoffrey N Epstein February 23, 2013 at 03:52 PM
What matters is Newton's budget. Boston's budget is another red herring. MNF estimates of Newton's METCO costs are too high by at least a factor of 10 or more. My estimate is based on the FY13 budget book, Chapter 70 money we get for each student, METCO reimbursements and the fact that we can choose where to put METCO students, as compared to the general student intake which we have far less control over. I would be very happy for MNF ro provide detailed arguments on the METCO cost to Newton. I remain convinced that the cost is so low that it is insignificant compared to the amounts we need for failing buildings, space expansion and teachers for the next 800 students coming into Newton over the next 4 years because we are such an attractive and well run city. The override vote should be YES x 3, based on sound numbers and sound planning.
Moving Newton Forward February 27, 2013 at 05:14 PM
Geoff, we disagree with your estimate. We have incorporated the very same METCO reimbursements and Chapter 70 state aid that your side touts. You may be interested in our Research Director's recent column in the Newton TAB. He spells out why we disagree with your group's modeling estimates of the cost for non-resident school children. "I remain convinced that the cost is so low that it is insignificant compared to the amounts we need for failing buildings, space expansion and teachers for the next 800 students coming into Newton over the next 4 years because we are such an attractive and well run city." So 538 non-resident school children represent an insignificant cost but 800 Newton kids represent a need for $9.2M in additional education spending? We think George Orwell would be proud of such doublethink in contemporary society. "Boston's budget is another red herring." We provide a $7M value each year to Boston by educating their kids in our school system. When your group tries to minimize the cost in order to sell your extravagantly expensive overrides, it makes it difficult for Newton to get Boston to kick in money for educating Boston kids in Newton Public Schools. We think that override supporter and Former Alderman Ken Parker said it best when he said that maybe it is time that Boston and the Commonwealth increase reimbursement rates to adjust for the capital and other fixed costs that Newton faces. http://www.newtv.org/video/common-ground/override/
Mark Sangiolo February 27, 2013 at 07:11 PM
A couple of points about Metco; 1. The projections of how much Metco costs the city are all over the board. It would be nice to know how much it costs but as far as I can tell no one really knows for sure. 2. Newton has become a racially diverse community. In a couple of years Newton will most likely not meet the Metco programs requirement as a receiving school to send minorities. 3. Metco will not be ended overnight. It will probably be phased out over time. 4. Even if there will be considerable savings by ending Metco the need in the schools is now....not 5 years from now but now. 5. Its great there is so much talk about Metco and no one is being called anti minority (or worse). Maybe after the override there can be an honest evaluation of the Metco program and in the future Newton can some $.
Moving Newton Forward February 27, 2013 at 07:31 PM
Mark, Boston saves over $60M annually because suburban districts like Newton, Brookline, Lexington and other towns take 3,184 Boston kids under METCO (Western Mass districts take 142 Springfield kids). If you can explain how the METCO program experience would change one iota if the City of Boston paid Newton $7,144,285 annually for educating Boston kids in Newton schools, please do so. Otherwise stop engaging in non-sequiturs and red herrings. If Newton did not get state aid, Federal SPED Aid and aid from EDCO for hearing impaired children, we would insist that Boston and other districts provide Newton $10,141,525 annually for educating non-resident children in Newton Public Schools.
Mark Sangiolo February 27, 2013 at 07:49 PM
I'll engage in whatever I wish, plus I love herring! How is my premiss a non sequitur ? Metco will not be solved overnight and the need is now. Illogical?? Furthermore, Boston is not going to pay Newton $7Million a year for volunteering to take its school kids. Its not going to happen. Gosh I miss Newton.
Moving Newton Forward February 27, 2013 at 07:59 PM
"How is my premiss a non sequitur ?" Well, if the pro-override camp spent half as much time pushing Boston, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and or the Carnegie Corporation (Andrew Carnegie's charitable foundation that helped organize METCO) for increased reimbursements rather than pushing three extravagantly expensive property tax overrides, maybe we would be receiving $7.1M annually now. $7.1M could go to pay for new schools, new police, new fire department infrastructure and upgrades to our network of streets and sidewalks. "Furthermore, Boston is not going to pay Newton $7Million a year for volunteering to take its school kids. Its not going to happen." Well, then we guess that Newton needs to collaborate with the other 36 cities and towns that take METCO students in order to pressure Boston and Springfield to pay $60M+ annually to the suburban districts for educating Boston/Springfield kids in suburban schools.
Geoffrey N Epstein February 27, 2013 at 08:05 PM
OK. Game on. MNF, please provide me the exact details of how you get your $7,144,285 cost to us for METCO kids education. Then we can proceed and compare our two estimates. I am happy to provide my details. I say $500K, you say $7M. We should be able to figure out who is closer when there is a factor of 14 difference. No one is saying that we should not review METCO costs. In fact the CAG, recommended we do a review in 2013. So I expect we will. Any adjustment to the METCO program in either reimbursement or its scale in Newton would come out of that review. However, I will bet $500 that my estimate is a whole lot closer to the actual cost than yours.
Mark Sangiolo February 27, 2013 at 08:54 PM
Yea MNF collaborate, and try to get all those cities and towns to help pay for a program that Newton volunteers for. See if you can get them to whip out their checkbooks for poor Newton. The point is.....its not going to happen and even if you could raise Andrew Carnegie from the dead how long would it take to get him to pen off a check to Newton......years rather than months. The need in the facilities in now not years from now. Complaining about this and that and would of should of could of....well that is just a lot of gum flapping that will not solve the pressing facilities problem one bit. You think some righteous Hero is going to come and pay for Newtons decision to have Metco? Dream on. And even if Metco does not work for Newton anymore it still will take years to phase it out. You can only put off paying for these things for so long. If you want a decent roof over your head you have to pay for it. You can't have firefighters breathing diesel fumes while they sleep and school kids not having a decent place to go to the bathroom. Fighting this override this time is not the good fight. Fix your house, Metco as is, is here for a while like it or not.
Moving Newton Forward February 27, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Mark, Geoff, we arrived at gross costs based on information from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education concerning per pupil expenditures, the reimbursement rates from the School Committee and that gave us our net cost. In addition to the 404 non-resident schoolchildren from the METCO program, we include the 134 other non-resident kids who are children of staff, hearing impaired, approved to attend and "tuitioned-in students". We disagree with the notion that 538 non-resident school costs only $500K annually net of state aid when 167 Newton kids who attend schools outside of Newton cost Newton $10.5M annually net of state aid.
Moving Newton Forward February 27, 2013 at 11:02 PM
Mark, Newton and those other towns enable Boston to save $60M annually by taking Boston kids into their school system. Those other towns should collaborate with Newton because there is plenty in it for them? They would benefit by joining as one collective organization in order to reduce their net annual educational costs. Furthermore, if Boston was willing to pay the difference between the full tuition cost and the state aid provided, maybe this would enable METCO to reduce its waiting list. But we think the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it best when it said "However, given the low reimbursement and the present level funding of the program, it is unclear exactly how a school district could join without additional overall funding to the program itself." http://www.doe.mass.edu/metco/faq.html?section=b We thought that Ken Parker's remarks about how maybe its time for Boston to step up with payments to Newton to offset capital and administrative costs was spot on. That's what we're trying to suggest but your efforts are hampering our case. http://www.newtv.org/video/common-ground/override/
Mark Sangiolo February 27, 2013 at 11:44 PM
My efforts are hampering your case??? If I can hamper your case then you don't have a shot in hell. We can argue back and forth about Metco but my point, of which you are having a hard time understanding is this; The facility needs are NOW. A Metco resolution is years and years and reams of red tape away. I hope Newton does get a better refund for Metco but it will not happen in the next 5 maybe 10 years and IMHO probably not at all. And by that time Newtons racially diverse population will not qualify for any Metco money even if there was any. In apox. 2 years Newton will not meet the requirements for a receiving city/town for Metco since its school population will be Racially Balanced as defined by the state. At that point no way will anyone give out money for a redundant program that does not meet state requirements. I hope I have made myself clear....there is no time for this as an alternative for the override. Still pursue it?...sure if you feel so strongly about it but as a replacement for the override, no way. It wont happen, your timing is bad. This should have been done years ago. If you want to change or phase out Metco you are going to have to change the School Committee. Metco is an eyes wide open voluntary decision made be your elected officials and quite frankly an honorable one IMO. Should Newton be thanked by the rest of MA...yes. Should they be given mo money?..maybe. Will they get more money?...no.
Moving Newton Forward February 28, 2013 at 03:15 AM
Mark, your post if any showed why Newton shouldn't be able to pass any Proposition 2.5 overrides. If they were unwilling to pursue additional reimbursements from Boston for METCO kids, then they don't deserve any additional money from the taxpayers beyond the statutory Prop 2.5 limitations. And if we don't get it, and if we can't get the naming rights and if we can't replace CPA, then we need to freeze government worker pay in the first 18 months of the next union contract. If the city's leadership had been willing to speak up and say we need METCO reimbursements, then this wouldn't have been an issue. Instead, they cravenly decided to take the path of least resistance and stick it to the taxpayers instead.

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