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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tough talk on state of the city

NEWTON

“Totally unacceptable, morally unacceptable, and educationally unacceptable.”

No, that's not your Dad talking about your SAT scores. It was Mayor David B. Cohen, who used about one-third of his State of the City speech last night to scold critics of his plan for a new Newton North High School.

In addition to lambasting the current facility, Cohen urged voters to allow completion of a new one, and pledged again that its cost would not bankrupt the city or prevent the renovation or reconstruction of other crumbling buildings.

“Today’s opportunity is to improve our educational facilities to ensure that Newton’s schoolchildren have a learning environment that enhances their educational experience in the 21st century,” Cohen said.

In the speech, Cohen announced that he had sent the Board of Aldermen a five-year capital plan proposing spending of $235 million on improvement projects for fiscal years 2008 to 2012; he also proposed $27 million in capital spending for fiscal year 2007, which began July 1. The plan includes $200,000 for review of the 25 largest municipal sites to determine their needs.

After the speech, frequent mayoral critic Paul Coletti, chairman of the aldermen’s Finance Committee, said Cohen’s financing plan for Newton North would not allow the city to care for other needs.

Coletti also chastised the mayor for failing to mention challenges the city faces, including settling the contracts of 2,300 teachers and administrators and 1,800 municipal workers, including firefighters.

“I’ve never seen a time when 14 union contracts were unsettled,” Coletti said. “The state of the city is we need to take some extraordinary steps, even if it’s just to settle a reasonable wage package.”

-- Connie Paige

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