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Officials Making A Case For Third-Round School Budget With Video Messages

Following a similar appeal by Acting Superintendent John Reed via a two-part video broadcast on The Bee’s YouTube channel, a number of other local officials requested to post face-to-face messages to local taxpayers.

Those officials — First Selectman Pat Llodra, Selectman James Gaston, Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze, Board of Education Chair Debbie Leidlein, and Legislative Council Chairman Jeff Capeci, Vice Chair Mary Ann Jacob and Education Committee Chair Kathryn Fetchick — all voiced support for passing the latest district request.

In addition, resident and former Charter Revision commissioner Michelle Embree Ku helped organize a group of local officials and education supporters, who all contributed to place a high profile budget advocacy ad in this week’s edition of The Bee. Ms Ku, along with a growing number of residents, are enlisting print and Internet social media, as well as phone trees for a final “get out the vote” push ahead of the third-round school referendum.

That referendum has been scheduled for Tuesday, June 4, with a special absentee voting session set for Saturday, June 1, from 9 am to noon at the town clerk’s office in Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street, Fairfield Hills.

Polls will be open at the Newtown Middle School, 11 Queen Street, June 4 from 6 am to 8 pm, for all qualified voters.

Voters passed the municipal budget request in a split May 14 referendum, while the school proposal failed by 52 votes. If approved, the requested district increase would be 3.93 percent, providing a $71,045,304 spending allocation.

Prior to the council’s latest reduction, the district budget increase stood at 4.37 percent.

If voters support the latest proposal, it would deliver a total budget increase of 3.58 percent, and a 2013-14 tax rate of 33.32 mills. A mill represents one dollar in taxation for every $1,000 in taxable property.

Among the points made in her video message, Mrs Llodra thanked taxpayers for passing the municipal side budget. She also was among officials noting that a recent Phase I federal grant received by the school district would not inject funding that could be offset by additional budget reductions.

“We’re asking truly, that the community evidence some faith in our future, and confidence by investing in our school system,” Mrs Llodra said.

Speaking about state resources coming back to the community, the first selectman noted that the town has received $3.5 million less this year than just four years ago. She said the town has begun to offset those losses through efficiencies like taking on a self-insurance plan for town and district workers, as well as beginning consolidation of town and school financial management.

In the future, Mrs Llodra said Newtown would be leaning on the state more heavily to assist with recovery from the 12/14 tragedy.

Mr Gaston focused one of the major concerns he was hearing about from his constituents, regarding the increasing budget versus falling enrollment. He explained that there is no dollar-for-dollar increase for teacher or personnel cost when enrollments trend up across several grades.

“You don’t have to go out and buy a new teacher if there are 21, as opposed to 22 students in a class,” Mr Gaston said. “Likewise, it’s the same way going down.”

He said the district cannot lay off a teacher just because a few select class sizes drop by one or two students.

Mr Kortze talked, in part, about the level of teamwork he is seeing among officials working to chart the appropriate financial course for the community.

“For a number of years now, there has been a tremendous amount of cooperation among the major boards,” he said, adding that the cooperation continued “ten-fold” since 12/14.

Mr Kortze also spoke to his board’s concern about supporting a reestablishment of a system of spreading out major facilities and technology upgrades over a five-year window.

“The budget, where it stands now, is in jeopardy of that not going forward. And at some point, there’s a point of no return regarding buildings and technology,” Mr Kortze said.

Ms Leidlein reinforced a number of points of concern articulated to her board by Dr Reed about potential misunderstandings about how the district could use incoming grants.

“None of these monies are currently in the school budget,” she said speaking of a recent $1.3 million federal SERV grant.

“This does not mean that $1.3 million can be taken from what the Board of Education is currently asking for. That is not allowed based on the [(application] requirements of this grant,” she explained.

The school board chair mentioned, however, that the school district will be looking at making further reductions to the budget if and when contract and purchasing savings become more evident in the closing month of the current fiscal year.

Mr Capeci said he felt the third-round proposal struck an acceptable enough balance between funding critical district needs and accounting for the increasing burden on local taxpayers, that he would support the request.

“I voted for it at the council,” Mr Capeci said. “I think [Dr Reed] spoke at our meeting [saying[ it was going to be a difficult year recovering from December 14… that he would do his best to steward tax dollars wisely, and I have every confidence that he will spend the money where it is needed.”

Ms Jacob demonstrated the web-based tool that helps property owners understand how the recent revaluation would influence their 2013-14 tax liability.

She said when residents hear about the increase in the budget, and the corresponding proposed mill rate increase without having any hard facts about how this affects them personally, they are shocked at the number and think, “My taxes must be going up a lot.”

“There are people whose taxes are going up,” she said. “But I think it’s important for every single homeowner to go and find out what the answer is, because many, many residents’ taxes are going down.”

Ms Fetchick spoke in support of the third-round proposal and her confidence in Dr Reed’s ability to utilize the increase to the district’s best advantage.

“John Reed is somebody we can trust to do the right thing,” Ms Fetchick said, noting that since 12/14, Dr Reed has been volunteering at the Chalk Hill/Sandy Hook facility.

She said as a result of his growing familiarity with staff and student challenges in the wake of the shootings that Dr Reed knows what needs to be done.

“We need to put our trust in him.”

Several officials also encouraged local taxpayers to reach out to them or their district council representatives if they have not already, with any questions or concerns about the June 4 district budget request.

More stories like this: Llodra, school budget, Fetchick, Gaston, Kortze, Leidlein, Capeci, Jacob

Comments

BOE Budget

The obvious question is where were all these people when the first budget was sent on to the taxpayer. Now they are begging us to pass this budget because it is too low. Unfortunatlety they also bully us into thinking that any budget that does not pass will be cut further. We know that is not true as the Education Budget has been cut too much in the past and cuts have been reinstated.
So what to do? Do you vote it down again as too low, or cave in to get on with it. I have always believed that budgets pass because people are presented with reason to vote for it, not againt it. It takes yes votes to pass budgets, the no votes tend to be a constant. Our elected officals have never fully appreciated that. They have tended to catter tothe no voters, rather than the yes voters. So with each failure they cut the school budget by huge amouinys ( $750,000 after the first vote) giving parent even less of a reason to come out and vote yes.

If you think this budget is the right amount to move our system forward then vote yes, but if you think its too low then say so in the voting booth.

What they're Not Telling: All MV Taxes are Going UP 36%

There are many places where the BOS (not the BOE)has taken advantage of some excellent opportunities to mask details that when fleshed out show Surplus Building methods of accounting. Meaning they're taking more of your money than they need to, period.

And that's not all. It now appears that they are purposely trying to lead voters to believe that they should look only at their home/real estate taxes to determine the effect of the Revaluation and the Budget Increase on their wallets.

The fact that Everyones Motor Vehicle Taxes are going up a Significant percentage (36%) is something all Legislative Council Members and other Elected Officials should be aware of, wouldn't you agree? Besides the inherent duty to be informed and to communicate honestly, this FACT has been brought to the Legislative Council's attention in several different venues -- LC Meetings, and Conversations with LC Members Directly - even the member shown in the VIDEO!! Is it a breach of Ethics to continually point to a page that does not include Motor Vehicle Tax and tell the voters "This is where you can look to see your increase or decrease?"

It doesn't matter that the BOS Budget has passed. All of our Tax Money goes into one big pot, its called the General Fund. And every nickel that's collect from us should be reflected in our REVENUE budget. Out of this fund we are supposed to be paying for all the things in our Expense Budget- town services, education, staff etc. that we budget for. We have unearthed several Surpluses in the BOS budget last year and next year's Revenue Budget projection (where it is determined how much the town will collect from all of us) has been tweaked DOWNWARD - meaning their showing less money coming in then they actually plan on billing you and me in taxes. This means they'll have extra left over AGAIN (last year it was $1.3M)

This needs to stop -We'll need different leaders for that.

As far as Tuesday's budget is concerned, if all these people think now is the time to vote YES, meaning that the BOE has the correct amount of money, than the RIGHT vote is NO. The LC can CUT another $700K out of Education and transfer $500K in idle cash from some of the line items in municipal operations to Education where there are excesses. Then they can fix their revenue accounting to gain back on paper what they're actually taking from us - it is at least $200K. Then we can all vote Yes for it. The end result here is that we've cut some bloat from the BOS ($700K), kept the amount going to the BOE the same as what is on the ballot, thus REDUCING the current proposed amount by $700K

If you think the BOE doesn't have enough money than you should VOTE NO, Too Low and write a letter to the LC saying you don't want them to raise taxes further you want to cut the BLOAT in the BOS and transfer money to Education. It is irresponsible as a community member to do anything else unless you think that putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the rainy day account each year is the way to go -- last year it was $970K of your money that went there.

It is complicated. This is what it is going to take. We need to lead ourselves. We're not being told the truth or at least not the whole truth and we've got to step up Together!!

What They're Not Telling: All MV Taxes are Going UP 36%

There are many places where the BOS (not the BOE) has taken advantage of some excellent opportunities to mask details that when fleshed out show Surplus Building methods of accounting. Meaning they're taking more of your money than they need to, period.

And that's not all. It now appears that they are purposely trying to lead voters to believe that they should look only at their home/real estate taxes to determine the effect of the Revaluation and the Budget Increase on their wallets.

The fact that Everyones Motor Vehicle Taxes are going up a Significant percentage (36%) is something all Legislative Council Members and other Elected Officials should be aware of, wouldn't you agree? Besides the inherent duty to be informed and to communicate honestly, this FACT has been brought to the Legislative Council's attention in several different venues -- LC Meetings, and Conversations with LC Members Directly - even the member shown in the VIDEO!! Is it a breach of Ethics to continually point to a page that does not include Motor Vehicle Tax and tell the voters "This is where you can look to see your increase or decrease?"

It doesn't matter that the BOS Budget has passed. All of our Tax Money goes into one big pot, its called the General Fund. And every nickel that's collect from us should be reflected in our REVENUE budget. Out of this fund we are supposed to be paying for all the things in our Expense Budget- town services, education, staff etc. that we budget for. We have unearthed several Surpluses in the BOS budget last year and next year's Revenue Budget projection (where it is determined how much the town will collect from all of us) has been tweaked DOWNWARD - meaning their showing less money coming in then they actually plan on billing you and me in taxes. This means they'll have extra left over AGAIN (last year it was $1.3M)

This needs to stop -We'll need different leaders for that.

As far as Tuesday's budget is concerned, if all these people think now is the time to vote YES, meaning that the BOE has the correct amount of money, than the RIGHT vote is NO. The LC can CUT another $700K out of Education and transfer $500K in idle cash from some of the line items in municipal operations to Education where there are excesses. Then they can fix their revenue accounting to gain back on paper what they're actually taking from us - it is at least $200K. Then we can all vote Yes for it. The end result here is that we've cut some bloat from the BOS ($700K), kept the amount going to the BOE the same as what is on the ballot, thus REDUCING the current proposed amount by $700K

If you think the BOE doesn't have enough money than you should VOTE NO, Too Low and write a letter to the LC saying you don't want them to raise taxes further you want to cut the BLOAT in the BOS and transfer money to Education. It is irresponsible as a community member to do anything else unless you think that putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the rainy day account each year is the way to go -- last year it was $970K of your money that went there.

It is complicated. This is what it is going to take. We need to lead ourselves. We're not being told the truth or at least not the whole truth and we've got to step up Together!!

Nice Effort - Too little too late

Nice effort, but two referendums and more than $1 million too late. The Education budget will pass on Tuesday but once again, the program will suffer for yet another consecutive year.

What will you do when this round fails?

What will you do when this round fails? Will you give us a meaningful reduction for a change, or will you keep trying fractions of one percent? Will you stop wasting thousands of our man hours trudging to the polls over and over and over? Will you listen to us ? EVER?

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