Republicans Believe
"It Smells Like Roses"

The last time Newtown had to live through multiple referenda was the spring of 2007.  The missing piece after that final referendum in 2007 was to compare the proposed budget cuts with the actual budget cuts and where things ended up after the school year ended.  Fast forward to 2009 and 2010.  There was an unprecedented amount of review and discussion about the “draconian cuts” and the potential results of the reductions.  The Independents claimed Republican projections for the 2010 budget “…doesn’t pass the smell test.”1  Republicans believe in making data-driven decisions.  So, lets review both the 2009 school budget and the 2010 proposed school budget.

According to the December 16 2008 Board of Education (BOE) minutes, the Superintendent declared, “If we did a zero increase we would have to lay off 80 people.”  Subsequently, on April 30 2009 in the Newtown Bee, the Superintendent stated the 0.43% increase in the 2009-10 school budget “is not enough to move the district forward”. Did you know after the 2009 referendum passed, the only reduction in staff was a 0.5 physical education teacher?  Did you know the last Board of Education meeting in June 2010 declared a $306,000 surplus in the Board of Education budget?

What happened during the development of the 2010-2011 school budget?  The Superintendent proposed a 5.08% increased school budget.  The Board of Education reduced that proposal slightly and offered a 4.8% increase.  The Board of Finance, which was supported by the Legislative Council, reduced the school budget by $2.5 million resulting in a 1.03% increase.  Comments by “education supporters” were as such:

“Reducing staff is unavoidable”2

“Class sizes for grade five will be 24 students, grade 6 will be 27 students, grade 7 will be 27 students and grade eight will be 23 students per class. The high school needs NEASC accreditation. The variety and availability of classes is more important than class size.”3

 “I think the PTAs are going to crucify John Kortze."4

“The proposed budget with 1.03% school budget increase is inadequate and it is not a compromise.”5

“Bottom line, the RTC list, after taking out the risk that the schools can't absorb, will require teacher cuts. My guess - we'll be cutting 10-15 teachers (and paying for their unemployment based on Connecticut's economy)”.6

“…the spreadsheet distributed during the Republican press conference contained figures that were wrong or inflated”7

After the budget was defeated twice, the Legislative Council offered a $200,000 olive branch and the voters approved. Did you know this is not the first time the Legislative Council has viewed the political landscape and decided to return money back to the education budget?  Republicans are willing to compromise while the Independent Party of Newtown (IPN) continues to drive wedges to divide the Town. Republicans strive to provide honest, thoughtful facts in order to allow the voters to make informed, data-driven decisions and to unite our Town.

Once the budget passed, the Board of Education had to decide how to address the $2.3 million reduction.  Repeatedly during the budget process, “education supporters” proclaimed the only option left was to reduce staff.  On the other hand, Republican leaders offered alternate budget data and solutions to reducing staff and increasing class size.  Let’s take a look at the result of the options:

Did you know certified staff was not reduced as warned (up to 20 teachers and 10 educational assistants) – as a matter of fact teaching positions were added?  Did you know after-school activities at the Reed and Middle School were not removed as warned but are fully funded by the school budget? C
lass sizes were maintained at appropriate levels.  Did you know it was possible for “Pay to Play” fees to go directly to sporting activities? Republicans believed the Town needed to better allocate its resources and provide equal distribution of educational assistants.  Did you know 4.77 educational assistants were removed to equalize their appropriate use across the school district as recommended by Republican leaders?

There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the fact that the 2010-11 school budget does not move the district forward.  Republicans maintain that budgets do not need to increase in order to increase the quality of education.  As a matter of fact, the over-riding theme during the 2.5 days of strategic planning as sponsored by the school district was that new costs could not be added.  New programs would need to be created while older programs that were no longer effective would need to be removed.  Strong school leadership is required to accomplish this goal.

We must not forget the municipal budget.  First selectman Pat Llodra vows to make the ‑0.84% municipal reduction work and continues to move the town forward as promised. As candidates for First Selectman and Board of Selectman, Pat Llodra and Will Rodgers called for better fiscal management of resources needed to fund medical insurance for Town and Board of Education employees.  That commitment and effort is being realized in a three-step process.  The office of the First Selectman with Financial Director Bob Tait worked carefully with the School Superintendent, Business Manager and Board of Education to successfully move the town to self-funding of the medical insurance program. That action alone saved the Town and Board of Education hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And, led by Pat Llodra, the Town and Board of Education worked collaboratively to select one consultant for all medical insurance, generating in the future more consistency and accuracy in cost projections and reducing the overall fee structure for immediate savings of another $80,000.  A third step is the plan for this coming year to jointly test the marketplace to determine if our current medical insurance provider is delivering the services and programs at the lowest cost/greatest benefit possible.

What’s next?

Already, Republican leaders are looking towards the next budget season. We will continue to look for structural changes to consolidate duplicate administrative functions in order to fund education. In a February 26th letter to the Newtown Bee editor, a resident asked “Shouldn't the Board of Education be focusing on the educational aspect of the budget and shouldn't the Board of Finance committee be the ones researching how to save money in those other areas?”  Republicans agree.  As a matter of fact, on June 24th, the Board of Finance unanimously endorsed, with the support of First Selectman Pat Llodra and Legislative Council Chair Jeff Capeci, researching the possibility of consolidating the Town and school accounting functions to achieve further cost savings.  This would provide better “…transparency and make obtaining information easier” according to Board of Finance Chair John Kortze.  

Legislative Council Chair Jeff Capeci also recommended initiating a charter review to evaluate the budget referendum process.  We Republicans believe processes should be reviewed because improvements are always possible.  Since there was so much discussion involving the budget referendum process, Republicans are taking the initiative and convening a charter revision group to review and address the public’s questions that originated in this budget year.  The public will drive the results of the commission. 

What do Republicans Think?

The Republican plan to address the budget reduction was spot on and certainly passes the smell test.  We are education supporters who believe it is our duty to analyze costs and evaluate cost effectiveness.  We were elected to ensure our dollars are spent wisely with an eye towards future planning.  As predicted by the Republican leaders, structural changes to the Town/school district health insurance and insurance consultants resulted in savings of $811,000.  Looking at equally distributing of resources such as Educational Assistants resulted in a savings of $85,620.  Eliminating teachers and increasing class size were options that were unnecessary.  We, Republicans, will continue to make data-driven decisions as we move forward.

1 NewtownPatch, 5/14/2010, “Independents: ‘It Doesn’t Pass The Smell Test’ by Hoa Nguyen

2 Comment by Janet Robinson, Superintendent’s Blog, 5/13/2010

3 Newtown Board of Education Minutes, May 4th

4 Newtown Bee, 3/11/2010, “Finance Board Recommends Budget With 2.7 Percent Tax Hike” by John Voket

5 NewtownPatch, 5/13/2010, Comment by Po Murray on “Republicans: 'It Is A Fair Budget, It Is A Reasonable Budget'”

6 NewtownPatch, 5/16/2010, Comment by Tom Bittman on “Republicans: 'It Is A Fair Budget, It Is A Reasonable Budget'”

7 NewtownPatch, 5/14/2010, Independents: 'It Doesn't Pass The Smell Test' by Hoa Nguyen