A Call To Support Education

To the Editor:

This letter is an entreaty to the voters of Newtown to support the education budget at this third referendum scheduled for Tuesday, June 4.  The budget request as it stands now calls for a year over year increase of 3.93 percent, having been further reduced by the Legislative Council in response to the failed second referendum.

The needs of our school system are significant. Those needs have multiplied considerably over the past few years of very modest growth in funding, less than one percent annual average. We believe that educational excellence is a prerequisite to the continued growth and viability of our community.

If we are to grow our economic base and define ourselves as a vibrant community, attractive to investment and competitive in the marketplace, then we must demonstrate a belief in our future and a willingness to invest in this core value of educational excellence.  Our commitment to you is to manage resources with the greatest consideration for the impact on taxpayers; to seek efficiencies and cost-savings while also providing programs and services of high quality; to aggressively investigate longer-term opportunities for savings; and, finally, to serve you with the greatest of integrity and transparency.

We humbly ask for your support on this budget vote.     

E. Patricia Llodra

First Selectman

John S. Reed

Interim Superintendent of Schools

3 Primrose Street, Newtown                        May 28, 2013

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The School Budget

The sum of tax dollars invested in education is a serious concern of tax payers and has to be factored into decisions about budgets. But, the major concern ought to be return on that investment. Just as a smart business in order to thrive requires prudent investment to grow, be competitive and achieve brand excellence, so too with a community. The return on our tax-payer investment is the quality of education our schools provide and should be of central consideration in this discussion, not only the total funds allocated. What kind of school system do we get for the monies invested? We can pay too much and waste tax-payer dollars. Or, we can spend too little and deplete the quality of education and waste money on a poor return on even a limited investment. We want that Mama Bear spot that is just right, not too much and not too little.

At some point, necessary fiscal conservatism, if taken to the extreme, will undermine the capacity to provide quality educational outcomes, just as a business that fails to do basic upkeep eventually loses its competitive edge. The CT Department of Education currently ranks Newtown as 146 out of 166 districts in spending per child. While not a measure of the quality of education these kids receive, this standing ought to raise the question of whether we can get the quality educational outcomes, our return on investment, we need to stay competitive as a community. Capable families and businesses have choices of where to settle and pay their taxes. They will choose communities that understand the need for quality education in maintaining the quality of life in their new home town.

Being 146 out of 166 communities worries me in that we are setting ourselves up to be one of many undistinguished towns at the bottom of the pile. Newtown High School just 13 years ago was a Blue Ribbon school. If I'm looking for a town to settle my business or family, it's where there is a Blue Ribbon school, not a town that let that distinction slide and is racing to the bottom of the list of undistinguished towns that gave up on investment in education .

We all know that the desirablility of real estate in a town hinges in part on the quality of the schools. Quality schools are, then, an essential factor in retaining and growing the value of property. A town needs to attract capable and motivated new families to improve the tax base and to improve the quality of life. Families look first to the quality of the school system and the commitment of the town in its schools. Businesses are much the same. What makes the American economic system great is the risk enrepreneurs are willing to take to invest in future returns. Again, the return on investment in our schools, not just the sum of the tax investment, is the key factor.

My conservative insincts tell me to be concerned that we may over-reach in our effort to achieve fiscal discipline and inadvertently undermine our ability to provide quality education. This would undermine the strength of the town to hold its real estate values, attract new capable families and businesses and in the process, inadvertently weaken the tax base we are trying to protect. We run the risk of causing a self-generated downward spiral in the value of our properties, quality of life and tax base if we fail to support a reasonable school budget that can produce the best quality education possible for the dollars spent. Sometimes investment in excellence is the best answer to staying competitive in a slow economy. Otherwise, being one among many undistinguished towns can repel the very people and businesses needed to grow out of the slump.

That said, it does seem prudent to ask about the demographics of the town to see what the real needs are over time. Understanding that the number of students served is not the only factor in determining a budget, but the quality of education is critical as well, the next question would be how does this year's budget reflect those demographics and the need to maintain the quality of education? Before the next vote, it would be helpful to have this information.

Third Budget Vote

It is great to see the effort our First Selectman and Superintendent of Schools are putting in to advocate for the budget. I do wonder what would have happen to the first budget vote if our elected officals had put this effort in. Budgets pass when our elected officals explain the value the taxpayers get and support them.

More of the same, VOTING NO!

This from the same people who want to blow $50,000,000.00 on replacing a school that is already standing and is paid for, in a declining enrollment environment and a slow economy. Lower education budgets and spending is the rational response to lower enrollment. So is closing schools as they are no longer needed. By 2016 we are going to need at least one fewer school (possibly two). If you look at the demographic trends in town and in the country, this is happening. The echo boom is over, and that means fewer school children. We should arrange with Monroe to stay in Chalk Hill and give it a year to see where enrollment shakes out. We should also vote down this budget.

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