There was muted enthusiasm, but enthusiasm nonetheless as referendum moderator Carol Mattegat read off the third round referendum results Tuesday evening about 30 minutes after the polls closed at Newtown Middle School.
After two disappointing failures, the district finally found overwhelming support as its twice modified budget request passed by a margin of 1,181 votes. The vote was 3,259-2,078.
A group of officials including Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein and Vice Chair Laura Roche, First Selectman Pat Llodra and a half dozen council representatives all stood by waiting for the numbers, most hopeful after hearing that 5,337 votes were cast.
Turnout June 4 marked a significant increase from the last district referendum on May 14 which drew 4,762 voters, failing by 52, and prompting the Legislative Council to trim another $300,000 from the spending plan.
Factoring the split town budget’s passage on May 14, the total budget increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year stands at 3.58 percent, and will generate an increased tax rate of 33.32 mills. A mill represents one dollar in taxation for every $1,000 in taxable property.
Acting Superintendent John Reed, who produced a series of informational budget videos for The Newtown Bee, spent much of the weekend with Ms Roche touring local playing fields chatting up parents with a “get out the vote” message. On Tuesday, however, Dr Reed was quick to credit residents for the budget’s eventual passage.
“Tonight a large number of Newtowners will go to bed proud because their expended efforts are responsible for this wide margin of victory,” he told The Bee. “This is evidence of what can happen when we work together. And we’ll build on this next September with a goal of passing our next budget on the first try.”
Ms Leidlein said she was thrilled when she heard the significant margin of approval, but admitted her board now has a “long road ahead.”
“We will be meeting this Thursday to begin discussions,” she said.
Mrs Llodra said she was pleased for the town and the board of education.
“This was a budget I believed in, she said, "and it was good to see that the town does, too."
One of the most significant elements of the newly approved spending plan after immediate security and post 12/14 recovery needs are met, is the question of whether the district can find the funds to initiate its proposal for full day kindergarten.
Dr Reed said he was looking at as much as a half-million dollar shortfall, which would have to be found somewhere in the approved $71,045,304 request in order to consider implementing FDK in September.
“We’ll work hard to make full day kindergarten happen,” he said before countering that it is too soon to talk about it being a done deal.
Ms Leidlein said it would be “a shame not to see it go through,” but also relented that she has to be realistic, given the funds available.
“I believe it is a priority of the board, and personally, I would like to see full day kindergarten happen,” she added.
Ms Roche echoed that she was also optimistic she and her colleagues could make FDK work, but the school board would have to work with the funds taxpayers allowed.
“We’ll follow Dr Reed’s lead and see how the numbers play out,” she said.
Dr Reed also saw the district budget victory as a win for local homeowners.
“The majority of voters understand that what draws new homebuyers to town is high quality schools and support for those schools,” he said.
A budget question asking whether voters believed the budget request was too low generated 1,816 yes votes and 3,290 no votes.