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.

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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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