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Meeting Newton’s Needs - Without Raising Taxes

Our Analysis and Evaluation of Alternative Sources of Funds to pay for new infrastructure spending instead of $11.4 million in increased override taxes.

By Traute Marshall, Robert Marshall and Joshua G Norman

No one disputes that Newton has real needs. But has the administration tried to meet them imaginatively - without automatically reaching yet again for a tax-override? Our group, “Moving Newton Forward – with Fiscal Responsibility,” thinks the city can indeed meet its needs, while living within its means – and thus remaining economically affordable and ethnically diverse. Here's how it looks to us:

Tax hikes proposed by the Mayor change the current 2.5% annual tax increase to a combined 2.5% + 4.3% override rate, for a total increase of 6.8%. That means most
 Newton residents would see their taxes rise between $500 and $750
 annually.
 As an alternative, MNF has identified three areas where the city could save:
 
Repurposing CPA

The Community Preservation Act, an override passed in 2002, funds affordable
 housing, historic resources, open space, and recreation land. CPA generates
 about $3.1 million every year, of which $2.44 million come from Newton 
taxpayers and $.62M comes from the state. If Newton citizens voted to re-purpose 
the CPA override into a “Community IMPROVEMENT Fund,” it would supply $2.44 million annually for infrastructure repairs. Such repurposing of CPA funds for ten years would eliminate our backlog of
 neglect.  If the pro-override group was willing to invest time and money in a special election to increase people's taxes, we think that there should no problem with that group engaging in a similar effort to end CPA and repurpose the CPA moneys into the general fund.
 
Naming Rights
 
According to the Newton School Committee, selling naming rights to private companies could generate $6 million over three years. Is it tacky 
to put advertisers’ names on school buildings? Maybe, but it’s fiscally smart enough for
sports arenas, theaters, museums, and university buildings to sell
 names. Tellingly, Alderman Baker and Former Alderman Lipsitt insist on more tax increase
 overrides, while opposing raising money through naming rights. Which would 
you prefer?

Reimbursement for Out-of-District Students

Newton educates over 500 students whose parents are not Newton taxpayers/residents. The students fall into two groups. 91 are children of Newton teachers who do not reside, or pay taxes, in Newton. Teachers receive this benefit, worth $17,000 per child, as per their collective bargaining agreement.
 Is it fair to ask Newton taxpayers to subsidize teachers who choose to live elsewhere while benefiting from Newton schools? Even with a state subsidy per student of $2K and even adjusting for 13 Newton kids attending other public school systems that their parents work for, this benefit adds $1.2 million of costs to 
the Newton school system annually. The superintendent argues that Newton must compete in this way with other wealthy suburbs. We wonder if it is really that hard to attract teachers to Newton schools?
 
Additionally, more than 400 Boston children attend Newton schools through the METCO program. METCO allows Black, Asian, and
 Hispanic students from Boston (roughly 60, 20 and 20%) to study in Newton schools, IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR PARENTS' INCOME. Think of the METCO students 
as filling an entire Newton school! Because 36% of METCO kids are in special
 education programs (versus 20% for Newton’s general student body), further expenditures are required to support them.
 
How expensive are non-resident students? The Newton Schools Committee reported that in Fiscal Year 2013 Newton will enroll 538 non-resident students.  Newton received $2.1M in dedicated state aid for METCO and incurred about $0.7M in METCO transportation costs. Newton also received $1M in Chapter 70 state aid, as well as federal aid for METCO kids in Special Ed/IEPs ($141K), EDCO aid for hearing impaired children ($106K) and $79K for special education students "tuitioned in" to Newton Public Schools.  That amount hardly offsets the annual Newton per-student cost of $17,000! And that cost does not take into account depreciation on new school buildings that the override supporters want ($417K) or the interest expenses associated with new buildings and infrastructure ($251K) Here’s the math: $10.26M in gross costs. Deduct the net aid of $2.9M, and Newton absorbs a total cost of $7.36 million. Meanwhile, the city of Boston is not asking its residents for an override. Newton is.
 
Despite our rising enrollment and crumbling schools, we do not advocate ending METCO. Rather, we ask that native districts of all out-of-district students pay their share of the costs.
 This request is more than fair when you consider that when Newton sends its children to other districts -typically for residential special education programs - we pay
 full fare. For example, the City paid $12.5 million in 2011 before state aid to send 167 Newton-resident students to non-Newton institutions.
 
In short, Newton has options other than tax overrides. We just described three. Others would be: vigorous support of commercial development, reducing non-teaching staff, implementing more computer-based instruction 
in the schools (which would improve learning quality), and outsourcing and competitive bidding for services such as custodial services.
 
Moving Newton forward affordably isn’t rocket science. Fiscal responsibility only takes imagination, a focus on savings, and respect for Newton students, taxpayers, and employees.

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.

Moving Newton Forward March 04, 2013 at 08:13 PM
Jerry, we don't desire providing a $7.5M annual value to Boston by educating their kids in our school system.
Suzanne Rourke March 04, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Hooray, Traute & George!
Really? March 04, 2013 at 09:34 PM
"Period, end of discussion." Well, that's one way to end a discussion, but it's hardly persuasive. You compare apples to oranges and declare yourself the winner? The missions are completely different, and the mission matters. Never mind the fact that the 2 organizations you are comparing have actually raised about the same amount of money (NSF a little more) over their lifetimes - you clearly don't like to let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite. Sure, the naming rights concept would include the possibility of a large check from a wealthy individual, but the big targets are the corporate sponsors. And while there have been some significant deals made by public school districts for naming rights at football stadiums and other sports venues, this is still a very new concept.
Moving Newton Forward March 04, 2013 at 09:50 PM
Really?, that's the best you can do? Is that, really? "the 2 organizations you are comparing have actually raised about the same amount of money (NSF a little more) over their lifetimes - you clearly don't like to let the facts get in the way of a good soundbite." Last we checked, Glen Falls was a small town in a small micropolitan area whereas Newton is the pre-eminent bedroom and school community in Greater Boston. Last we checked, Glen Falls wasn't as wealthy as Newton and yet they do a better job with fundraising than the Newton Schools Foundation. Newton's past & present Aldermen like Lisle Baker, Vern Vance and Brooke Lipsitt want to raise money through overriding Prop 2.5 while vehemently opposing money raised voluntarily through naming rights.
Really? March 04, 2013 at 11:07 PM
MNF - pay attention. They weren't raising money for public schools. They were raising money for families in their community in desperate need. Many people - including in less affluent areas - believe in helping their neighbors in need. Not as many people - even affluent areas - believe in privately supporting public schools, because historically that's not how it's been done. This is new, since 2.5.

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