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The Best Of Both Worlds In Newtown



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The Best Of Both Worlds In Newtown

To the Editor:

As a newcomer, I’ve been following the reval and budget processes, trying to understand core issues around both. We moved here from an area with very high taxes that seemed to cause families to move in, school their children, and move out. We chose Newtown because it appeared to offer the best of two worlds, a community that consists of lifelong residents and a quality school system.

This letter focuses on the general education portion of the school budget –– just under half of the entire school budget. It includes classroom instruction, libraries, building administration, support, etc. It consists of classroom expenses, and so is best represented by per pupil expenditure. To maintain educational quality, next year’s per-pupil classroom expenditure should be the same as this year’s, adjusted for contracted salary increases. Overall, per-pupil expenditures have slightly surpassed last year’s, growing from $4,599 (adjusted with increases) to $4,615, or 0.4 percent. Current spending for high school classrooms, adjusted for the contracted increases, is $5,430/student. Next year it falls by $278 to $5,152, or -5.1 percent. For preK–8, the current, adjusted per-pupil spending is $4,285. Next year, per-pupil spending surpasses that number by $116, growing to $4,401/pupil. Reed school annualization ($254,860), another required preK–8 expense, accounts for $66 of the $4,401/pupil cost. Therefore, the nonrequired growth is $50/student.

While the proposed budget seems modest, some will still suffer from reval. As such we should look carefully at the preK–8 growth. Fifty dollars per pupil translates into $192,000. Some suggest removing proposed teachers. Sandy Hook is gaining two teachers, one for first grade and one for second. With these added teachers, they will now have class sizes that are more consistent with the other elementary schools. Head O’ Meadow is gaining a teacher because the third grade is expected to grow by 18 students. There are also two proposed teachers for grade 5. Should these two be cut, the growth drops to $26/pupil, or to $101,000. This covers increases in substitute pay and costs of supplies, as well as ensuring balanced elementary schools. Further cuts will likely compromise preK–8 education. And, in reality, such cuts have little impact on our taxes. The $400,000 cut proposed by the finance board only saves the average homeowner $40 per year in property tax.

So, what can we do? We need to reduce the tax burden for those struggling through these difficult times. But, let’s not “cut off our nose to spite our face.” Our schools provide us with one of the only good investment opportunities in this economy –– our homes. Cutting the quality of our schools jeopardizes this investment, with very little payback. Let’s instead work together to figure out ways that shift the burden. One is to revisit the town’s tax relief program. Another is to expand the commercial base. (Our current base of about ten percent is extremely low. Expanding this base will help drive taxes down for every home owner, though it will not be enough.) There are other ways too, we just need to think and do. If we can, then Newtown will continue to offer the best of both worlds, quality education and a community composed of longterm residents.

Deborra Zukowski

4 Cornfield Ridge Road, Newtown                                      April 1, 2003

Comments are open. Be civil.

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