Newton city officials and school administrators talked about the potential impact of a proposed tax increase on Newton Public Schools (NPS) during a roundtable event at Franklin Elementary School on Wednesday.
“It couldn’t be a worse time to turn to the voters and say, ‘Would you consider reaching deeper into your wallet?’” Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller said at the event. “That said, we have been using every dollar really well and actually to meet the expectations and the needs of our students and our residents. I am asking, if at all possible, for people to dig even deeper.”
Three quarters of the $15 million proposed tax hike would go toward making improvements in NPS.
Franklin Elementary school would receive $3.5 million for renovations as part of the proposed increase. Newton constructed Franklin Elementary in 1938 and Countryside Elementary—which will receive $2.3 million if the override passes—in 1953, according to the schools’ conditions reports. Horace Mann Elementary would also receive $775,000 from the proposed increase for its expansion.
The city would also invest an additional $4.5 million to NPS’s budget annually if the override passes.
Both schools underwent multiple additions shortly after their construction—many of them temporary, which are sometimes called “modular” buildings—and now suffer from deterioration, said Josh Morse, Newton’s public buildings commissioner, at the event.
“It’s in very, very difficult condition because modulars are starting to, quite frankly, rot away,” Morse said. “And the vast majority of the building has well exceeded its useful life.”
Countryside Elementary School, located in the Newton Highlands, has received little investment over the last 60 years, according to its conditions report.
A large issue at the school is chronic flooding. Water has reached up to 9 feet up the wall of the basement, according to the report. The basement has never been completely dry.
“It’s so low in the ground and below the street level that we have to pump sewage up,” Morse said. “I have been the lucky person to crawl hand over elbow through sewage on many occasions.”
Classrooms and the playgrounds—among other spaces—at two schools are undersized and cannot meet student needs, according to the condition reports. Teachers at Franklin Elementary sometimes resort to using hallways for classes due to insufficient space, according to Morse.
In addition to making renovations, Morse said Franklin Elementary has ample open space that allows for expansions that benefit both the students and the surrounding neighborhood.
“The Franklin school site is approximately 5 acres, 4 acres [of which] is essentially open space,” Morse said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to create something really special not only for the Franklin school but for the entire neighborhood via athletic fields, playgrounds, basketball courts, more trees, [and] planting.”
At the meeting, NPS interim superintendent Kathleen Smith also outlined the uses of the additional $4.5 million investment in the district’s operating budget, including maintaining a low student-teacher ratio, supporting after-school activities, and improving resources for students with special needs.
“We’re guessing it’s up to the election commission in the City Council to pick a date for [the special election on the override],” Fuller said “We are expecting mid-March. We’re available to answer more questions.”