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Newtown Doesn’t Measure Up In Education Spending

To the Editor:

In response to the letter written by Legislative Council Chair MaryAnn Jacob, and published on April 25, 2014 [”The Next Steps Following The Budget Approval”]. After a 20 percent voter turnout she stated, “Some would say apathy keeps the numbers down, but perhaps we have reached a point where the direction the town is moving in is acceptable to the majority of the people who live here.” For the record, I did not vote Yes, but I did hear from many others who said that they did. They said they voted Yes because of concerns that if they voted No, the Legislative Council would cut the BOE Budget further. They were not voting Yes because they agreed with the budget or because they felt it was “fair and balanced” as Ms Jacob stated.

It does not seem Newtown, is “address(ing) the realities of declining enrollment just like the rest of Connecticut.” Looking at school districts in our District Regional Group (towns that the State Department of Education puts together based on demographics), you’ll see many of them passed budgets with a far greater than 0 percent increase. Towns with enrollment decline similar to Newtown (3.4 percent) such as Glastonbury and Avon with 3.3 percent and 3.6 percent enrollment decline respectively, have passed increases in education funding of 3.2 percent and 2.6 percent. Even our neighbor, Monroe, with a decline in enrollment of 3.4 percent, passed an increase of 1.6 percent in education funding.

Many towns use enrollment decline savings to meet costs of new mandates, rising special education needs, and increases in labor costs. The savings, together with the increase in support they are receiving, allows them to enhance their district’s curriculum and overall quality. Did you know that Newtown is one of only four districts in our DRG to wait until seventh grade to offer World Language? Most of our DRG-mates are offering at least one foreign language in their elementary schools. Newtown also lags behind in elementary offerings of music, art, and in other areas like class size and AP class offerings.

These towns rank close to Newtown in wealth, and are investing in their education system. In so doing, they not only meet their obligation to their families, providing a 21st Century learning experience and readying their children for what colleges and workplaces will demand, they are also making themselves very attractive to young families and couples looking for a place to settle down and raise a family.

In a recent decision by the Legislative Council, Newtown raised the senior tax relief application limit to $70,000 adjusted gross income and added $150,000 to the $1,650,000 Senior Tax Relief Fund — funded by our tax dollars. While an asset test is being discussed, none exists now. I support helping those in need, but our families with children have needs too. First Selectman Pat Llodra and Board of Finance Chair John Kortze have commented that Newtown’s senior tax relief is the second most generous program in the state. If we were truly “fair and balanced” wouldn’t our schools be at least keeping up with our DRG-mates?

Michele Assante

16 Wendover Road, Newtown                     May 21, 2014

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