If Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s proposed $15 million tax increase fails in an override vote on March 14, Newton Public Schools (NPS) will face a $6 to $8 million gap in its budget, according to the interim superintendent of NPS.
“We understand what families are dealing with,” Kathleen Smith, interim superintendent of NPS, said. “With inflation rates, every one of us isn’t sure what the next heating bill would look like … but this sacrifice—and I have said this widely—for this generation of students, it is a point in time that we will look back and every one of us will be held accountable for what we were able to do for these students for the Newton community.”
Newton School Committee members and representatives from NPS attended a community meeting on Zoom on Tuesday, in which NPS officials gave a presentation on the future of the NPS budget, including potential implications of the failed override vote. Fuller’s tax increase requires a majority vote at a special election on March 14 to initiate the legal override process of Massachusetts’ Proposition 2 ½, which places a 2.5 percent cap on annual increases in levy limits.
Smith said meeting with parents and families has given her optimism for the upcoming vote.
“As I have been meeting with families at PTO meetings over the past few weeks, it is clear to me that this community wants the best educational opportunities for all of its students,” she said. “I continue to remain optimistic that the Newton community understands the importance of supporting our district and this generation of students who have experienced significant disruption in their educational experience as a result of this pandemic.”
Liam Hurley, chief financial officer at NPS, said NPS officials are currently working on determining the budget for fiscal year 2024 (FY24). According to the presentation, the preliminary estimated FY24 budget needed to meet the school district’s budget goals is estimated to be between $280 and $282 million.
The outcome of March’s special election will dictate the percent increase of the FY24 budget from the FY23 budget, if the budget passes. The FY24 budget would undergo a 3.5 percent increase from the previous fiscal year if the override fails, or a 5.2 percent increase if the override passes, Hurley said.
According to Smith, the increase in funds are crucial to upgrade NPS facilities and improve its learning environment.
“We have heard our schools telling us that they want 21st century schools—safe places for their kids to attend—and they clearly like the type of communities that you have created for our school systems here,” Smith said.
If the tax increase fails in an override vote, there is potential for significant reductions and changes in NPS services, including increased fees, charter maintenance reduction, additional risk assumption, and a higher teacher-classroom ratio, she said.
With the funding from a successful override vote, however, students would have more personalized and engaging learning experiences, as NPS would lessen cuts on administrative, operations, extracurricular, classroom, and school personnel funding, according to the presentation.
While Newton School Committee members and student representatives expressed gratitude for the hard work done by district officials in making the budget proposals, speakers from both groups expressed concerns about how the vote will impact the district and its children.
“I think what really makes Newton distinguish itself are the things that would be cut, like the ability of the teachers to really commit to having like the one-on-one conversations and making their classes rigorous,” Haruka Nabeshima, a Newton North High School student and student representative, said.
Nabeshima said the potential loss of more personal time with teachers, as well as no longer having certain extracurricular activities, would be devastating.
“I mean being able to speak with their students and like I’m part of the orchestra so the music program is a really important community to me and all of my extracurriculars,” she said. “I think that’s what makes [NPS] special and I feel like without those things, it would be a big loss for the community.”
Fuller said children and their education is a key issue in the city.
“The core value in the city of Newton is our children, the future of our students—they are literally our future,” Fuller said. “All of us are all in on supporting them, certainly with fabulous academics, but also [paying] attention to those who have different learning styles, who have been marginalized in the past, who have gone through an incredibly difficult three years.”