Council has passed city budget and CIP, with two resolutions related to schools

The City Council on Monday unanimously approved Mayor Fuller’s FY2025 budget and capital improvement plan.

The $525.4 million amounts to a 5.1 percent—$25.7 million—increase over FY2024. And it includes the $286.3 million that Superintendent Anna Nolin had requested.

While approving the budget department-by-department, the City Council discussed several resolutions to add, rejecting most of them (including one about artificial turf) but adopting two.

Electric buses

The first, brought by councilors Vicki Danberg, Andreae Downs and Rena Getz, requests the mayor allow electric school buses with a contract of up to 12 years.

Bus contracts typically run for five years, but the amendment asks for 12 to give the schools enough time for a complete bus fleet changeover.

The city’s Climate Action Plan calls for electrification of city vehicles, and the resolution notes that Highland Fleets Co. is interested in providing a 12-year contract.

“There’s a considerable capital outlay, as you can imagine, for providing a fleet of buses for a school district as large as Newton’s,” Danberg said.

The bus resolution passed 18 to 6.

Phone pouches

The next resolution, proposed by councilors Martha Bixby, Becky Grossman, Joshua Krintzman, David Micley and John Oliver, requests the mayor appropriate $50,000 for cell phone pouches for the schools.

“This is the beauty of having some youth on the Council,” Councilor Leonard Gentile said. “I don’t think last year or many years prior to that would we have heard a resolution on phone pouches.”

Cell phones in schools have increasingly become a topic of conversation in recent years, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Day Middle School has tested a pilot program with phone pouches. Under the program, phones are placed in pouches for the entire school day to keep students from distraction. Students can keep the pouches in their lockers or their bags, but they can’t open them.

The pouches missed the deadline to be included in the FY2025 school budget, so advocates submitted the idea as a resolution, hoping the mayor will use ARPA funds or other money to fund the pouches.

“Because of the timing of this pilot, which was done this year and then presented to the School Committee at the beginning of this month, after the NPS budget was crafted and passed by the School Committee, continuation of the pilot and expansion to the other middle schools was not able to be included,” Bixby explained.

The Council unanimously approved the phone pouches resolution.