My name is Kathy Hubert and I live in Newport, NH. My husband and I love our community and have raised our eight children here. Many in our hard working community are struggling to balance paying their property taxes and providing a high quality education for our children. This is because our state funds public education primarily on property owners’ backs.
Similar to most property poor towns in NH, Newport resident’s median income is $52,450, which is 23 percent less than the state median income. 55 percent of our residents are socio-economically disadvantaged, and we spend nearly $3,000 less per student than the state average.
At the same time, Newport teachers are the 17th lowest paid in the state, and teachers in the district have only had one raise in the last seven years. Salaries for beginning teachers are a paltry $34,300, and for the past five years those teachers didn’t receive the step increases they have earned. This means teachers with experience have been making the same salary for the past five years as their peers with less or no experience.
The consequences to our children’s education was that we lost 28 of our 98 teachers in 2018, had a two year turnover rate of 26 percent and two elementary grades have permanent substitutes because we cannot recruit teachers.
Studies have proven that the quality of education declines for students when there is high teacher turnover rates.
This year at our annual school meeting neighbor was pitted against neighbor once again as the debate over funding our school budget and being able to afford property taxes returned. This year’s budget would increase our already high tax rate by an additional $5 per thousand on the school’s portion of property taxes. This is an increase of nearly 30 percent over last year, partly because of the reduction in state aid this year.
What are we funding that will increase the budget? Increases in special education services that are mandated by state and federal regulations but not funded; a fire panel; and most importantly raises for our teachers.
A vocal segment of our community launched their annual opposition to the school budget and we feared another failure to pass budget and the proposed teacher’s contract.
The Superintendent called me twelve days before the vote to ask for help to support the ongoing efforts of the Newport Teacher’s Union to do an emergency campaign to bring out the vote.
With the help of Rights & Democracy’s, Kevin Pentz, we called and emailed volunteers for a Saturday morning community organizing meeting. During our meeting we fund-raised for a Facebook campaign and a one page flyer to counter the anti-school flyer that was set to appear before the vote. We wanted the Facebook campaign and the flyer to focus on the consequences to our children of not passing the budget. We believed that parents and millennials supported the budget but didn’t come out to vote in previous years.
We thought these folks must just not have have known they could vote or understood why it was important that they do so; so we wanted to provide that information in a direct and accessible medium like Facebook. Hurdles to doing a paid campaign on Facebook were overcome by the creative and technical help of Rights & Democracy’s Molly Grover and a local citizen.
We also did a round table discussion on our local access TV station about the relationship between local school funding and the pending state legislation for school funding.
In addition, we scheduled people to stand with VOTE YES signs all day at the voting hall. Supporting these efforts, the Newport’s Teacher Union President spoke on a local radio talk show and on the community access TV show. The Teacher’s Union also did their own flyers, signage and phone calls.
As a result of our efforts, Newport saw one of the largest voter turnouts we ever we had. 1241 people came out to vote, many of them newly registered. We won the school budget article and amazingly won the teacher’s contract by 17 votes!
This experience drove home Margaret Mead’s wise quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
We are now working to raise local understanding of the funding crisis and make lasting improvements to New Hampshire’s public schools – in Newport and beyond. Please join us: https://www.radnh.org/our-work/public-education/