To the Editor:

When you elected me to the school board in 2017, I ran on four goals: stop runaway tax increases, push for transparent decision-making, fix grossly overinflated facilities/capital improvements plans and improve academics. I was part of the search team for the new superintendent, and I’ve worked with the School Board and Administration to reach these goals.

The year 2015 was the last property re-evaluation in Newton and when I helped found NKTA. In 2015, According to the NH Department of Revenue, Newton’s total tax (mil) rate was $26.17 per thousand of valuation. By 2019 that had increased to $26.38 per thousand. On a $300k house that is a total increase of only $63.00. As you likely know, in Newton, about 80% of our property taxes go to the schools.

Last year, property taxes went down because of savings at the schools. This year, they went up because we retained money to fund the reorganization of the schools. The Administration estimates $1.4 million in annual savings due to this reorganization. Savings are planned for improving academics and some will return to the taxpayers. I strongly advocated for that the facility needs study.

I serve as Chairman of both the Facilities and Finance Committees. In the past three years, those committees have played a major role in facilities planning and cost management.

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly noted that our cost per student is higher than surrounding districts and our taxpayers have been extremely generous in funding the schools. Plus, taxes are raised on a smaller tax base than those other districts. But most taxpayers have a limit. When unreasonable budgets are proposed they often fail at the polls, including teacher and staff contracts. Carefully allocating our tax dollars in sustainable ways that support academic outcomes and maintain our facilities is critical.

Math and English performance continue to fall below state averages, especially by high school. Plans to address deficiencies are in the works, based on proven approaches used in other districts. Money to fund the needed intervention is coming out of savings, not from additional property taxes.

Since 2017, there have been important academic improvements. According to the Superintendents report, September 2019: NH Scholars, Improved 9%, Career Tech Ed or Industry Credential Earned, Up 23%, Dual Enrollment Credits earned, Up 79%, Acceptance into four year or two-year college or trade school or apprenticeship, Increased 38%.

Transparency is greatly improved. Information that should be public is readily given when requested. The Superintendent and Business Administrator welcome discussion with community members. The public is always welcome at board meetings and subcommittee meetings.

If re-elected, my goals are to continue advocating for cost control and improvements in all the above, while working to bring our higher cost per student in line with surrounding districts.

Please vote for me on March 10. And, thank you for taking the time to read this.

Jim Baker

Newton

 

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