Opinion: Yes vote is a crucial investment in Newton’s future

By Christine Dutt and Kerry Prasad

Newton residents have a unique opportunity to make meaningful investments in the city we call home by voting yes on all three override questions.

An override is a tool that Massachusetts cities and towns use to manage municipal finances. The law known as Proposition 2 ½ includes the override in recognition that municipalities may need to raise additional tax revenue when undertaking new initiatives, large projects, or when inflation outpaces 2.5%.  Many Massachusetts cities and towns use overrides frequently. For example, since 2000, Wellesley has had 14 overrides and Needham has had 11. Newton has only had two.  Brookline, which has passed operating and debt exclusion overrides in the last eight years, is considering an operating override this spring.

A yes vote on Question 1 would cost $290 per year, starting in July 2023, for the owner of a home assessed at $1.2 million, Newton’s median home value. The City Council has expanded several tax assistance programs available to qualifying individuals to help mitigate the override’s effects on those who face financial challenges. 

A yes vote on Question 1 would provide a renewable and reliable funding source for the municipal services and public education Newton citizens have come to expect. Question 1 would add $1.4 million annually to the city budget for paving and maintenance of streets and sidewalks and $1million per year for maintenance of parks, courts, playgrounds, and fields.

A yes vote on Question 1 would add $500,000 per year for programs and services for older residents, allowing Newton to better meet the needs of our fastest growing demographic.

A yes vote would allocate $500,000 annually to eliminate municipal buildings’ reliance on fossil fuels – to reach Newton’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050, starting with conversion of Peirce Elementary School’s HVAC from oil to electricity.

A yes vote would dedicate $500,000 per year to plant 1,000 street trees annually and provide proper care and maintenance of all street trees, which contribute to climate resiliency.

A yes vote would allocate $775,000 annually to fund much-needed renovations at Horace Mann Elementary School. The building was most recently as swing space; it doesn’t meet state standards for classroom size and lacks space for mandated student services and essential educational activities.  The renovations would provide our kids with the 21st century classrooms and learning spaces required to meet today’s needs as well as common spaces – like the gym – that can accommodate the school’s population.

A yes vote on Question 1 would provide $4.5 million annually in renewable and reliable funds for the NPS operating budget. During the pandemic, ARPA funds enabled NPS to maintain services and put in place much needed support for students.

A no vote on Question 1 means the schools will take a monumental step backwards with cuts of 40-50 educators, larger class sizes K-12, fewer academic, fine arts, and extracurricular offerings, and loss of transformative technology and mental health and guidance services that have so far been paid for with one-time-only pandemic-related funds like ARPA.  A no vote means Newton will be unable to maintain the municipal services already in place. A no vote means no new initiatives and no enhancements of current services.

A yes vote on Question 2 would give Countryside students a modern school building to replace the 70-year-old building. The school basement regularly floods and is never completely dry, even if dehumidifiers are running constantly. Half of the classrooms are modular additions that were never intended to last as long as they have. The new building would be on higher ground at the same site to prevent flooding. Countryside is eligible for a state grant of approximately 30% of the total project cost but only if Question 2 passes.

A yes vote on Question 3 will give Franklin students a healthy and accessible school building in which to learn, grow and thrive.  Franklin is an 85-year-old building with later additions that regularly flood and have chronic heating issues.  The library, art room, and after-school spaces are located in the basement, which was not originally intended for student use. The new school building would provide students with small group learning spaces and be fully accessible for those with physical disabilities, unlike the current building. 

A no vote on Questions 2 and 3 will delay the long-term plan to improve all of Newton’s schools by a decade.

A yes vote on all 3 questions is a crucial investment in Newton’s future. A yes vote on all questions will provide reliable and sustainable funding to support strong schools and critical city services, while preventing harmful cuts to our schools. An investment now is imperative to move Newton forward. Please vote yes on all three override questions.

Christine Dutt and Kerry Prasad are co-chairs of the Vote Yes for Newton campaign.