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Now Is The Time To Make Your Voice Heard



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The proposed 2024-25 school budget is heading back to the polls for voters to decide from 6 am to 8 pm Tuesday, May 14, at Newtown Middle School.

Following a rejection of the school budget by 507 votes at a referendum on April 23, the Legislative Council at its April 29 meeting slashed $1,408,307 from the Board of Education’s proposed 2024-25 budget.

The reduction was unanimously approved by all 12 councilmen, in contrast to a previous, pre-referendum meeting on March 27, where no bottom line for the school budget drew more than a simple majority of seven votes.

The new bottom line of $87,409,066 is a $2,339,415 or 2.75% spending increase over the 2023-24 budget, which places it in line with the municipal budget, which was passed by voters. The previous proposed 2024-25 BOE budget rejected by voters was $88,817,373, which would have been a $3,747,722 or 4.4% spending increase.

With the approval of the $48,834,506 municipal budget, if the new proposed school budget is passed on May 14, the mill rate will increase from 26.24 to 26.97 mills, a .73 mill or 2.77% tax increase. The previous proposal on April 23 would have increased the mill rate to 27.24, a 1 mill or 3.82% tax increase.

At a May 7 Board of Education meeting, the board only briefly talked about the budget, deciding to wait to see if the budget passes before deciding the cuts. However, this approach leaves the public in the dark about what the $1.4 million cut means to the schools.

For full transparency’s sake, the public should know exactly what they’re voting for, and have some idea of what they are voting to prevent should the budget fail again. Waiting to make the cuts is both a lost opportunity for the district to garner support and a disservice to the public who are left only to decide on their comfort with the bottom line.

During the April 29 council meeting where the cut was decided, a councilman noted that voters who would like the budget to be larger could vote against the current budget proposal and vote for the question that the budget should be higher.

Voters considering that strategy should consider caution. Look at the numbers of the previous referendum. While only 15.1% of voters turned out, those that did voted 1,701 “no” and 1,184 “yes” for the education budget, a 505 deficit. The town budget narrowly passed, 1,465 “yes” to 1,424 “no,” and that budget had a similar spending increase percentage — 2.75% — as the current school budget proposal.

However, on the secondary question to the education budget — If the proposed sum for the Board of Education is not approved, should the revised budget be higher? — the responses were 727 “yes” and 2,071 “no.”

That’s a 1,344 vote deficit, a two-to-one margin, that would need to be overcome in this new referendum.

Voting “no” for the budget and “yes” to increasing it runs an extremely high risk of both voting down the budget and losing on whether the budget should be increased — thus leaving the Legislative Council no choice but to cut the budget even further. It’s a longshot strategy that while it has a large potential gain, it could blow up in the face of those hoping to see the budget increased.

The best strategy for budget supporters is to vote “yes” on the current bottom line and “yes” to increase the budget should it fail. It’s the safest option and will not lead to school budget supporters accidentally contributing to further cuts.

Whether a voter is for or against the budget, The Newtown Bee encourages all voters to get out and place a vote on May 14. A school budget vote may not be as exciting as the upcoming presidential vote in November, but it is arguably one that has more of a direct impact on the day-to-day lives of Newtown residents. From the students in the school system and their parents who would mostly like to see programming and class offerings stay the same to senior citizens struggling to keep up with increases all across their own household budgets, this vote is important in one way or another to just about everyone in Newtown.

Even just looking at the fact that both the quality of the schools and the affordability of the tax rate are things that affect home values, a tight rope walk of keeping one balanced against the other, this vote should be on the minds of everyone in Newtown, not just 15.1% of voters.

In 2023, Newtown saw increased participation at its April budget vote with a turnout of approximately 8.8 percent, the first year of increased participation after years of waning participation, especially following the COVID pandemic. In 2022, participation was only 7.7 percent; in 2021, the turnout was 8.98 percent; in 2020, there was no budget referendum due to the pandemic; in 2019, turnout was 17 percent; in 2018, turnout was 15.7 percent; and in 2017, turnout was 19.9 percent.

Hopefully this referendum can at least beat the 2017 turnout, if not higher.

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