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Alderman Ruthanne Fuller: Join Me in Voting 'Yes, Yes, Yes' on March 12

A letter to the editor from Newton Ward 7 Alderman-at-Large Ruthanne Fuller asking residents to support the three override ballot questions on March 12.

 

Please vote Tuesday, March 12. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

There are 3 questions. Here is why I am voting YES, YES and YES. 

Newton has an operating budget of $315 million. These three initiatives will add another $11.4 million to it to meet important needs.

Setti Warren, our mayor, working with the Board of Aldermen and School Committee, works hard to use the $315 million thoughtfully, efficiently and effectively.

  • All labor contracts were renegotiated to hold compensation increases to  2.5 percent
  • Each item in each department budget is reevaluated annually  to make sure it’s necessary (zero based budgets)
  • Performance is monitored continuously so changes can be made and results improve (performance monitoring)

We have major buildings that are at the end of their useful life. Voting YES means funding two elementary schools (Angier in Waban, Cabot in Newtonville) and Fire Station 3 and Fire Headquarters (both in Newton Centre). 

We have 12,070 children in our schools, an increase of 900+ since 2004. We project another 850+ (7 percent) in the next five years. Voting YES adds more space by making the new Angier and new Cabot bigger and rebuilding Zervas Elementary School to double its capacity. Voting YES means more teachers and more teacher aides to keep class sizes reasonable.

Forty-six percent of our roads are in poor condition. Voting YES invests another $1 million annually in road and sidewalk maintenance and repair (still short of what we need but a big improvement).

Please join me in voting YES, YES and YES on Tuesday, March 12.

--Ruthanne Fuller
Alderman-at-large, Ward 7

Moving Newton Forward March 05, 2013 at 09:12 PM
Dear Fahey the Flip-Flopper, WRT "On the contrary it is the circumstances on the ground that have flipped since the '08 override." We disagree. All that has happened was that they reduced the rate of spending growth. Only in government talk can a reduced rate of spending growth be considered a cut. "not done the many positive adjustments to our financial structure in the interim" Would you like us to refute that? Because we will.
Bill Heck March 05, 2013 at 09:20 PM
Mr. Epstein states, "the crowning achievement of the current administration is to constraint employee compensation to a 2.5% growth rate." Hardly a crowning achievement ….All the municipal employee union contacts increased 2.5+ percent, taxes increase 2.5 percent, payroll and related = 80% of the budget, leaving 20% of the increase to do everything else. Amidst a terrible economic recession, we have very, very lucky Newton employees indeed, and very, very unlucky Newton taxpayers who are pressed to pay city costs with overrides as, once again, projects for roads, sidewalks, buildings and schools are held hostage by bloated city employee compensation costs. Mayor Warren really showed his colors with the union contracts, he was willing to shove these outrageous compensation increases in the faces of taxpayers to assure no union confrontations would affect his political ambitions, e.g., his Senate attempt. Explain the difference between Mayor Cohen and Mayor Warren; there is no difference other that Warren puts on a happy face and enjoys playing with smoke and mirrors, but at the end of the day neither manages the city in the taxpayers’ interests. Sustainability with union contracts? Surely you jest: If there is a five-year savings of $178 million with employee compensation, plus another $15 million in “found” saving through more efficient budgeting and more favorable utility contracts, why are we having an override?
Geoffrey N Epstein March 05, 2013 at 09:30 PM
Bill, Employees account for 80% of the budget and have a for a long time. The settling of the contract for 2.5% increases is the most remarkable achievement I have seen on the fiscal domain since I came to Newton in 1990. It righted out fiscal boat. To call the increases outrageous is a vast disservice to everyone involved. If it were not for the building issues and the student population increase, we would be completely sustainable. That is why, if these 3 questions pass, we'll be in excellent shape for 5 years. We'll only have to revisit the budget issues if the student population keeps on increasing 5 years from now. We have huge opportunity to get ourselves in really sound shape with this override. I for one will be very happy to have the basic school logistics taken care of so we can focus on student achievement, which is what we need to do if we want the US to keep its competitive edge. We talk education, but we keep on getting bogged down on logistics. Let's fix that and move on!!!!!!!!!!!!
Geoffrey N Epstein March 05, 2013 at 09:34 PM
MNF, Remember that HIngham is vastly different from Newton: Low Income SPED ELL Hingham 4% 13% 0.1% Newton 11% 20% 6.5% so their expenses are expected to be much lower.
Moving Newton Forward March 05, 2013 at 11:06 PM
Bill, don't you love it when our elected officials make excuses for why taxpayers must overpay in order to underperform? Do you think part of the reason why Newton's higher SPED levels is because of the METCO kids? According to SC Chair Claire (Sokoloff), 36% of METCO students receive special education services Of course, according to Epstein and the school committee, 538 non-resident kids (145 of whom receive special education services) don't represent a material cost, but hundreds of new Newton kids require three overrides for an estimated $9.2M in new spending beyond the basic 2.5% plus new growth revenue/spending targets of Prop 2.5.
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 12:46 AM
METCO kids are not a SPED factor as they are only 3% of the student body. The METCO program costs us around $500K due to our ability to place them where we wish and the reimbursement money. Plus the SPED id rate on METCO kids is much less than 35%. It would be more like the norm - plus we don't pay for any out of district placements and transportation. If METCO disappeared today, we'd still need an $11M override.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 01:56 AM
"The METCO program costs us around $500K due to our ability to place them where we wish and the reimbursement money." The problem is you are engaging in Orwellian doublethink. On one hand, you are saying 538 non-resident kids don't represent a significant cost because you can place them where you want. One the other hand, your group is demanding three extravagantly expensive overrides because you're saying that you're running out of space for Newton kids. "Plus the SPED id rate on METCO kids is much less than 35%." Actually, its 36% and your boss Claire Sokoloff tipped us off to that. You might want to talk to her about that. "METCO kids are not a SPED factor as they are only 3% of the student body." And yet their SPED rate is double that of the Newton kids. "If METCO disappeared today, we'd still need an $11M override." No we wouldn't because this would offset more than half of your vaunted projected enrollment growth. Your group is projecting 865 new Newton students over the next five years. Turning away non-resident students would free up 534 seats (we'll keep the 4 kids that are "tuitioned-in"). Would anyone please tell us how the METCO program experience would suffer if the City of Boston chipped in with $7.5M/year in aid to supplement the meager state aid that we get?
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 04:32 AM
Let me consider your contention that the 400 kids in METCO cost Newton $7.5M per year. If that was the case, then each 400 kids we add would cost $7.5M per year. Thus the 800 kids we know are coming in the next 4 years would cost us, in your estimation, $15M. But notice that the cost estimate in the override calculation is $4M or less, annually, for those kids. So your math is off by a factor of 4 or $11M. If you were organizing the YES campaign, you would have asked for an operating override of $22.4M!!!!! So the math at your end patently does not add up. And I stand by my estimate that if METCO disappeared tomorrow, our savings would be $500K, not 15 times that.
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 04:38 AM
DETAILS OF MY METCO ESTIMATE: With the NO guys claiming METCO costs us $7M annually, I thought it useful to PROVIDE my latest estimate of METCO costs, with the caveat that this is rough and we really should do a review, which is what the CAG we recommended we do in 2013. Here’s my latest arithmetic. From the FY13 budget book on p. 14 the costs are shown for adding 192 students to NPS. One can take the detailed numbers and remove: - The elementary teachers and support staff, as the METCO kids never force additional teachers or staff, in elementary (that’s part of the calculus NPS is employing right now) - Out of district SPED costs: tuition + transportation - Modular costs But leave in all support for SPED, and ELL and teachers for middle and high school. Then the cost per student added is $5,600. So 400 METCO students cost us $2,240,000. Then we get about $2.1M from METCO, of which $700K is transportation and about $100K for admin staff. That gives NPS $1.3M. The we get $1K per student from the state through Chapter 70, which gets us a further $400K. So offsetting that $1.7M against our cost reduces our cost to $540K. TheN we actually get IDEA money for SPED support plus Title 1 money for METCO kids who qualify in our Title 1 schools such as Lincoln Eliot. So my estimate of $500K is pretty solid. And is accompanied by the precise model used.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 12:23 PM
Geoff, actually your group is seeking $9.2M in new spending for the Newton Public Schools, for new buildings and teachers and a laundry list of new spending projects. Your group is trying to say that 538 non-resident school represent a cost of $500K annually while hundreds of new Newton kids require $9.2M/year in new education spending beyond the limitations of Prop 2.5. Boston saves at least $7.5M annually from sending 404 Boston resident children to Newton. How exactly can Boston save $7.5M annually from sending 404 Boston resident children to Newton yet only cost $500K to Newton?
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 03:03 PM
1.Yes - we are seeking problem solving funds 2. The new education spending is pegged at $4.5M/year, not $9.2M and includes added staff and modular expansions. Those numbers are calculated from exactly the same source as I calculated the METCO costs. It's consistent. It's transparent. And you should try to poke holes in my specifics to be helpful here. 3. What matters is our cost. What matters is our budget. Also, when calculating the Boston savings, you need to use the incremental costs, not the overall average costs. That makes a huge difference. And we get substantial reimbursements. That accounts for all of the differences. Take a look at my calculation in my prior post and let's work through that. That's the one the proves METCO costs us $500K/year.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Geoff, WRT your responses, you need to start smelling what you've been shoveling. 1. So are we. We believe that there are opportunities to raise funds from sources other than the taxpayers and voting for these three overrides will make it so you remaining unwilling to consider our proposals. 2. Actually, you are seeking $9.2M/year. Between the school buildings and the other programs, that totals up to $9.2M/year. Stop trying to word-smith and lawyer-ball. 3. What matters is that we incur over $7M/year in costs to educate 538 non-resident school children in Newton Public Schools. If Newton didn't have 538 non-resident kids in the Newton Public Schools, it would offset the vaunted enrollment growth your group has been bleating.
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 04:23 PM
MNF, I can count - and we don't incur $7M/year to educate 538 non-resident school children. That is completely and utterly incorrect. I have provided you the precise calculation, so you can check it in detail, but you won't engage. The bottom line is that we have to rigorously estimate costs and plan based on that. The city has done so. The schools have done so. And we have a solid base from which we can proceed. When you pluck numbers out of the air you remind me of the past city administrations which got us into this trouble by mishandling facility planning and budgets. We have moved on from that and the facts that I am shoveling smell like roses to me. It's been a real relief since my election in 2007, opposed by almost every elected official in the city, to see the dramatic turn around in this city. That is what encourages me. That is what we should appreciate. And when those turnaround folks call on us to invest in our city to solve some real problems, I am happy to answer the call. I have yet to make a better investment of my $360 than for this override investment in Newton. My son is heading to college this Fall, but this city means a great deal to me and it remains my highest priority to ensure that its education system continues to be strong and vibrant so our kids can excel and build a great future.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 04:35 PM
"and we don't incur $7M/year to educate 538 non-resident school children." And yet you want us to spend $9.2M/year on new buildings, teachers and other programs because we're projecting a few hundred more Newton kids. "When you pluck numbers out of the air" Actually, we got the bulk of our model's data from your boss Claire Sokoloff. If we didn't get the aid figures your group touts, we'd be pushing for over $10M/year. "the facts that I am shoveling smell like roses to me." We think that those "roses" have wilted "I have yet to make a better investment of my $360 than for this override investment in Newton." If these three extravagantly expensive overrides fail, there is nothing stopping you from contributing that $360/year to the Newton Schools Foundation. The problem with tax-grabbers like yourself is that you want to force us to pay more taxes to absolve the city of its past record of fiscal flab. Why hasn't BNF pursued the idea of money from naming rights or reimbursements from Boston and other towns with as much vigor? We think it is because they want to take the path of least resistance and force thousands of unwilling taxpayers to pay more simply because they were able to convince 50% +1 people to support this act of legalized theft.
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 04:39 PM
Let's vote.
Really? March 06, 2013 at 06:55 PM
MNF - It's become abundantly clear that you have no real, in-depth understanding of the complexity of these issues. All you have is a bunch of numbers and spreadsheets and conclusions based on false premises - and lots of catch phrases from the FOX News/Howie Carr playbook.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Really? Would the experience of the non-resident children suffer in any way if the City of Boston sent us a $7.5M/year check each year for educating their children in our school system?
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Getting the City of Boston to send us a $7.5M check is not a practical strategy. At best, they'd do the math and might be persuaded to send us $500K. In the end, we have to have a plan that will work. The YES campaign articulates a plan that works. The NO campaign seems to have no plan for fixing our buildings or handling the incoming student population wave. YES x 3 on March 12th propels us on a positive path where we'll see real progress.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 08:53 PM
Geoff, we can see that the City of Boston has $1.3B worth of bonds and other investment securities, so it is obvious that they have the money to pay us. If they are unwilling to pay us $7.5M/year and a satisfactory alternative is not reached, then they cannot educate their children in our school system. Period, end of discussion. Boston saves over $60M/year from educating their children in other school systems. Newton deserves at least $7.5M/year for that. Newton residents have paid for buildings and to educate our children but the money was spent elsewhere (lavish salaries for government workers, white elephant high schools and educational services for non-resident children) The YES campaign rewards fiscal profligacy and wastes taxpayer funds The NO campaign Moves Newton Forward With Fiscal Responsibility. The NO campaign says its time to take the money spent elsewhere and use the money from elsewhere to fix our buildings and to serve as a buffer for the whopping 0.85% annualized enrollment growth we've enjoyed since 1995.
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 09:09 PM
The YES campaign seeks to reward sound planning & execution, fiscal prudence and transparency by investing in a great team who will do even more remarkable things in the next 4 years as they continue to solve tough problems with creative solutions. What better place to invest than in your own city, for your own community and all of our kids? We will see a remarkable return on investment if we vote YES x 3 on Tuesday, March 12th.
Moving Newton Forward March 06, 2013 at 09:21 PM
"The YES campaign seeks to reward sound planning & execution, fiscal prudence and transparency by investing in a great team who will do even more remarkable things in the next 4 years as they continue to solve tough problems with creative solutions." The YES Campaign's message to voters is simple: B.O.H.I.C.A. The NO Campaign tells Mayor Warren words mean things. You said that you have more to do, then do it, instead of pursuing higher office. "What better place to invest than in your own city, for your own community and all of our kids?" We paid taxes to preserve the quality of our city, community and schoolchildren but the many was spent on lavish pay and benefits for government workers. "We will see a remarkable return on investment if we vote YES x 3 on Tuesday, March 12th." Is that why home sales and prices slipped in January?
Geoffrey N Epstein March 06, 2013 at 09:58 PM
MNF I think we have each argued our case as well as we can. How about we take a break? If the YES side wins on Tuesday, I'll shout you a can of Fosters and a jar of Vegemite. If the NO vote wins on Tuesday, I'll pledge my annual tax increase of $360 to the Newton Schools Foundation for their technology campaign until technology is properly funded in Newton.
Janet Sterman March 07, 2013 at 04:37 AM
Why aren't Sokolove, Hills, Yeo, Pitter, Ross-Decter, and Siegel speaking out on the Patch? I occasionally see comments from Fisher-Gomberg, but where are the rest of the School Committee and 23 Aldermen who are waving the YES signs in everyone's faces? Leaving it all up to Epstein to defend the BNF message on the Newton Patch? He must be getting pretty tired being the only one out here sticking up for the other 29 elected officials ENDORSING these overrides!
Harry Sanders March 07, 2013 at 11:08 AM
Geoff, you are indeed a man of honor and high moral standards, I as well will pledge my $360 to NSF should the overrides go down in defeat; pro-rata share for each question ($120. per question). I hear that there are already folks lined up for sc ward 1 seat.. I also suggested to Laredo that since he is so hopped up on the overrides and seeing that he, like so many other sc members before him have been seated on the BOA that perhaps his continuing campaign for education should role model his salary being donated to NSF as well. A dour facial expression ensued, having to put money where his mouth is was not something he expected..
Geoffrey N Epstein March 07, 2013 at 12:18 PM
Hi Harry, That's great! You've always been good company. Thanks for the support.
Janet Sterman March 07, 2013 at 02:00 PM
Folks are lined up to run for School Committee in Ward 1? Do tell...
Janet Sterman March 07, 2013 at 02:05 PM
Not that I am a screaming fan of Alderman Laredo's, I don't believe it's our place to tell him where he should put his Aldermanic salary... ;-)
Norman Wirtz March 09, 2013 at 02:31 PM
The 2.5% increase, touted as creating a "sustainable financial picture" is actually a destabilizing force that will inevitability require additional overrides (lets also remember that an "override" is a tax INCREASE). Another proponent of the Override recently wrote “17 municipal contracts were renegotiated so that the compensation growth rate dropped to match the rate of city revenue growth.” 1. Without an override, the budget can only grow at 2.5% 2. If the “compensation growth rate dropped to the rate of city revenue growth” then compensation will grow 2.5% 3. Compensation is 75.5% of the total city budget 4. Therefore 75.5% of every dollar of increase in tax revenue will be used up compensation growth. 5. Only 24.5% of every dollar of increased tax revenue is available to all other city needs. 6. What the need for the requested override shows is that the compensation portion of the total revenue increase is crowding out all of the needs of the city. A good first step is further reduction in compensation to the 1% range. People in the private sector are facing flat to declining compensation. Our municipal employees have historically received compensation increases in excess of 2.5%. It's time for them to give something back to the rest of us!!
Norman Wirtz March 11, 2013 at 07:41 PM
Really, whoever you are, would have us believe that the "numbers" don't tell the story. Unfortunately, these "numbers" are really DOLLARS and they don't lie. Perhaps Really should explain those "complexities" so that we could all better understand why the DOLLARS are necessary
Norman Wirtz March 11, 2013 at 08:59 PM
Here are some additional numbers that also apparently show no understanding of the "complexities" involved. In the absence of a tax increase/override, your average property tax bill will rise by $220/year increasing the total city budget by $9 million. But this increase is insufficient to run the city or fix our streets or keep our schools repaired. So the mayor needs an additional $343/yr or $11.4 million. Again, those darn numbers are dollars that come out of our pockets. That part is not too complex for me to understand!! Vote NO NO NO and send a message to the Mayor and the Aldermen that better is not good and they need to continue to do better so that you and I all the other taxpayers in Newton can keep their money.

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