In Newton only about 20 percent of households have children in the system. Those households are probably more receptive to the upcoming override, since its failure to pass will likely adversely affect their kids’ school experience.
But what about the rest of us [e.g., empty nesters like me, whose daughter has been out of the system for eight years]? Why should we pay more taxes, when there's less direct benefit for us?
One answer: Property value. Research has shown that school quality has a significant and positive impact on a city’s property values. Many families move to Newton because of our schools’ reputation and, while I believe our schools are still good, they are certainly vulnerable. Newcomers to the city are often shocked at the deteriorated conditions of elementary schools like Angier and Cabot and Ward, and the severely cramped conditions in a number of our other schools. Compounding the problem, Newton is one of the rare districts whose school population is still growing, putting huge stress on already crowded conditions.
Folks without kids in the system might conclude “an override does nothing for me. After all, why shouldn't I save paying the extra $300-$350 per year?” Consider this: If our schools do slip further and external perceptions catch up with that new reality, Newton's property values will suffer. Even a 10 percent drop in property values could cost the typical household $60,000. Were that to happen to you, you might well bemoan your decision to save $300-$350 per year only to lose many times that when you needed to sell.
You might scoff at the notion of a 10 percent drop in property values. Well, in the Great Recession we just went through, Newton’s average property value did drop by something more than 10 percent, but in communities not having the benefit of great location and excellent schools, reductions of close to 50 percent were common. Quality Newton schools are a great buffer.
Sadly, Newton's past administrations, while probably believing they were doing the right thing by scrimping on building maintenance, have instead saddled us with a serious fiscal problem. We are fortunate to have a new administration that’s been focused on tackling that challenge head on, by diligently looking to streamline the way we operate and moving us closer to real budgetary balance, while laying out what still needs to be done to keep Newton vibrant going forward. Perhaps Setti Warren's greatest single accomplishment in this regard was renegotiating contracts with our 17 unions where, with their cooperation, those contracts are now limited to 2.5 percent growth year-to-year.
Virtually all Newton voters have a stake in maintaining and enhancing a healthy city, remembering that the ones who benefit the most, the kids, don't have any say: they need us to say it for them. Voting for this override will do that.
I say all this as one who vigorously opposed the last override in 2008, co-leading the group that rejected that initiative. But the adverse conditions in place then are largely rectified. That is why I can enthusiastically get behind this particular override request.
I urge you to join me in voting yes on all three ballot questions on March 12.
For more information about the override, check out: http://buildingnewtonsfuture.org/
Honorary Co-Chair, Building Newton’s Future
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