This is the season when, after years of having their heads filled with ideas, ranks of graduates put on caps and gowns and contain their excitement long enough to hear a succession of speakers offer a few final insights before they step out into the future. Whatever the horizon looks like from beneath the mortarboard this year, two things are certain: the future is brighter with a college education and a college education is now so expensive that its financial obligations are likely to be a part of that future for a long time to come.
The streets have names like Old Farm Road, Washington Square Street, Fairfield Circle, Primrose Street, and Loop Lane. It sounds like a nice neighborhood, except no one lives there.
When Newtown bought the 186-acre Fairfield Hills core campus from the state in 2004, the $3.9 million purchase embodied the town’s hopes for an enhanced community through a variety of desired development, from athletic fields for the young to facilities and programs for senior citizens — but no housing.
We publish The Newtown Bee this week on June 6, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in Normandy. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history, which ultimately restored the French Republic and set the stage for the Allied victory over Nazi Germany. Few who took part in Operation Overlord are still alive. Those who survive are in their 90s, and the passage of time quiets their first-person stories of this historic date. No one gave voice to the wartime experiences of GIs in World War II better than Ernie Pyle, the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent for the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, who was himself killed in action by Japanese machine gun fire on a small island near Okinawa in April 1945. To remind ourselves of the incalculable personal sacrifices made by ordinary soldiers for the greater cause of humanity, we offer this column by Ernie Pyle about what he witnessed on the beaches of Normandy that June 70 years ago:
The tenth edition of Newtown’s Relay For Life takes place overnight Saturday into Sunday, this weekend. It returns to the Newtown High School Blue & Gold Stadium after several years at Fairfield Hills. Scores of teams and hundreds of registered participants will be on track, literally, to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the American Cancer Society. In the decade since Newtown’s first Relay in 2004, the local event has raised more than $2.4 million. The Relay teams in Newtown are joining more than four million people in 20 countries in what has become a fundraising juggernaut in support of the fight against cancer.
A fundamental rule of communication is that the quality of information depends on the path it travels. Direct is better than circuitous. Primary sources are better than secondary or tertiary sources. We learn this as kids by playing the “telephone” game, passing a word or phrase ear-to-ear around a circle transforming nickels into pickles, church steeples into birch people, and giving everyone a good laugh along the way. So, a proposal making the rounds of Newtown’s public safety departments and agencies to move the town’s Emergency Communications Center at 3 Main Street to a regional center 25 miles away in Prospect seems, on the face of it, to violate this basic rule. Because, as Newtown knows all too well, the quality of information in emergencies is no laughing matter, the plan has drawn a lot of questions, many of which still have no definitive answers.
The state’s Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor received a letter from the US Department of Education last week telling him that Connecticut has another year to implement a system of teacher evaluation that is linked to student performance — much to everyone’s relief. The state was supposed to start the new evaluation system next year, but this aspect of the state and federal government’s push for education reform has proven to be an easier thing to talk about than to implement.
When Newtown property owners got their local tax bills last year, there was concern and consternation among some people for whom the basic calculus of assessment and taxation seemed to have changed. In addition to the 3.5 percent increase in the tax rate for 2013-14, certain property owners were facing assessment upgrades in the recently completed revaluation. Owners of waterfront homes and other “high value” properties throughout town and those who bought over-55 condos were hit with the taxation double-whammy. The news was especially grim for the senior citizens among them. With limited and fixed incomes, some elders opened their tax bills and had to face yet another life decision: whether to abandon Newtown for a more affordable place to live. Now, nearly a year later, the town is taking steps to try to address their dilemma.
Starting this Saturday morning, four-legged family members can join the bipeds for some unleashed exercise at the park. At 11 am, May 3, Newtown will celebrate the grand opening of the Park & Bark, a two-acre field on Old Farm Road at the Fairfield Hills Campus that that has been transformed over the past year to become the town’s first dog park. Administered by the heretofore people-centric Parks and Recreation Commission, this newest addition to the town’s park system has come about largely through private bequests and fundraising, with minimal investment of public funds. It is a long-overdue formal recognition by the people of Newtown that most occasions are a lot more fun when dogs are around.
A particularly bad idea has taken root in the state legislature with the encouragement and nurturing attention of the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Connecticut, Inc (HBRA). It is sprouting under the nondescript name of Senate Bill 405, “An Act Concerning Public Hearings on Subdivision Applications.” The proposal would effectively cut the public out of local land use agency reviews of subdivisions by prohibiting public hearings on the development proposals. Current law allows land use agencies to conduct public hearings on subdivisions whenever they find it useful for their review. The HBRA, however, would prefer to dispense with the utility of public insights on the interpretation and implementation of local land use regulations. The builders would prefer that the volunteers on local planning and zoning commissions rely solely on information and assessments provided by their own hired experts.
Newtown voters have been invited to the polls on April 22 to commit themselves to $111 million in expenditures and another round of property tax bills for 2014-15. While overall spending in the proposed budget does inch up by slightly less than one percent, the accompanying tax rate does not increase at all, thanks to growth in the grand list, supplemental motor vehicle taxes, and various unanticipated grants and payments from the state. This reprieve from Newtown’s long legacy of annual tax increases, however, is not just happenstance or serendipity, like a mild winter or a found fiver in a forgotten pair of pants. It is the result of unprecedented teamwork by the town’s budget-making Boards of Education, Selectmen, and Finance, and the Legislative Council.