"The very decisive vote was attributed to two things," interim superintendent John Reed told Patch. "One was the undeniable benefit of accepting the state's gift ... And the second is the many, many people who are going to go to bed tonight feeling their hard work about getting information out paid off. They're responsible for this vote."
This group of advocates worked behind (and in front of) the scenes for weeks to get word out in anticipation of the vote. They include members of the Sandy Hook PTA, who used both old media — including flyers and postcards — and new media like Facebook and Google Docs to coordinate a campaign that seemed to be everywhere in the week before the vote.
"We tried to formulate a message that we would be able to get out to parents all over Newtown," said Sandy Hook PTA member Lynn Edwards.
As the newsletter chairperson for the Sandy Hook PTA, Edwards has experience getting the word out. After helping muster the crowd that served a unanimous vote for $750,000 in starter funds in July, she and other Newtown PTA members met with Reed and First Selectman Pat Llodra to form a plan.
They launched a public campaign, with flyers distributed on playing fields and in businesses across Newtown. They also took to Facebook, forming groups to share ideas and strategies. A "Text 5 on 10/5" campaign, the brainchild of Newtown Middle School PTA President Jennifer Scarangella, encouraged supporters to text five friends Oct. 5 and remind them to vote.
PTA president Stephanie Burns "lived at her printer for the last week," Edwards says, saving money by printing at home.
"She put forth so much time — we couldn't have done it without the flyers, signs and postcards," said Edwards. "I know she made tons of phone calls — she's been an incredible leader through all this."
On the day of the referendum, advocates took shifts at six Newtown locations — in front of Newtown Middle School, Newtown High School, Fairfield Hills, the Pleasance, Queen Street and Sandy Hook. (A shared online spreadsheet allowed advocates to coordinate times.)
"They Were Willing To Stick Their Necks Out"
Legislative Council member Mary Ann Jacob, a former Sandy Hook PTA president, was one advocate on the street Saturday — she got up at 7:30 a.m. to hang green and white balloons across town.
"As an elected official, what I can do is limited," she told Patch. "But advocacy for the good of the children is one of the PTA's primary roles. Because they were willing to stick their necks out for what's important, it allowed us to show our support for that."
How effective is the PTA in supporting referendums? Jacob says their success is often "cyclical."
"It depends on the people involved and how supportive the community is in general of referendums," she said. "Sometimes we're behind the curve -- last year is a perfect example. Without strong support from our advocates, we weren't going to get budget passed. Because we have those systems in place right now [following the third school budget referendum], we were able to do it."
Edwards knows the vote was a landslide, but she acknowledges it wasn't unanimous — and it's still important to win hearts and minds.
"We don't want anyone to be fighting this continually," she said. "Hopefully the 'No' voters will feel a little more comfortable knowing how many support it. 90% is wonderful. This kind of turnout tells Connecticut we're thankful."