Nonpartisan Action for a Better Redding (NABR) was started in the spring of 1996 when town residents David Bohn, Frank Scott, Lew Andrews, and others were brought together in their opposition to what they believed was a poorly designed plan to outfit local schools with the latest computer technology. The group continued what became a longstanding campaign to promote K-12 school reform in Redding and Easton, focusing on irresponsible expenditures and illegal activity by the respective school boards to promote their proposed budgets before annual referenda. In May of 2007, NABR received IRS certification as a tax-exempt foundation to “promote the quality of life” in both Redding and statewide.
Highlights over the past 25 years
In 1998, NABR undertook a campaign to alert the town to how poorly its students were performing on state and national tests – this despite having one of the highest per pupil costs in the state. Parents were shown how they could access the state’s Department of Education website to see the data for themselves.
In 1999, NABR distributed a flier to the entire town of Redding, revealing that the Hartford Courant had ranked local schools only 62nd out of 169 towns, based on the results of the most recent Connecticut Mastery Tests.
Later NABR forced a revote on a $5.9 million plan to add an unnecessary addition to the Redding Middle School.
In 2000, NABR began running ads every week in the Redding Pilot. The goal was to make the town aware of promising school reforms in other parts of the US. NABR also began working closely with an Easton taxpayers’ group to annually expose the salaries and benefits of top school personnel.
In 2002, NABR undertook a campaign to inform Redding residents about the status of two education-related cases before the state’s Supreme Court: Sheff v. O’Neill and Johnson vs. Rowland.
In March of 2003, NABR proposed that Redding and Easton adopt the state’s first school choice plan as an alternative to building an expensive high school addition. The plan recommended giving parents who wish to educate their children privately a third of Barlow’s annual per pupil, letting the school keep another third to cover fixed costs like oil and maintenance, and giving the final third back to property taxpayers. With the help of faculty at Trinity College, residents of both Redding and Easton were polled on the NABR proposal in May with one third approving it, another third opposing it, and a final third eager for more information.
In 2007, NABR developed, posted, and promoted an online calculator to show local parents the benefit of school choice. The calculator was praised by both Grover Norquist at Americans for Tax Reform and Steve Moore, then of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board.
In 2008, NABR worked with the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) to develop a seminar that would educate local officials around the state on the implications of changing standards for calculating postemployment retirement benefits.
In response to the 2009 financial crisis, NABR launched its biggest project to date: “10-in-10”. Under the direction of Frank Scott, approximately 30 local volunteers met weekly to review the entire town budget and suggest reasonable economies. It was called “10-in-10” because the goal was to get a ten percent reduction in town spending by 2010.
Based on its “10-in-10” work, NABR collaborated with the Yankee Institute and former Branford School Superintendent Armand Fusco to publish a booklet on “How to Form a Citizen’s Audit Committee.” Highlights of the booklet were published in the October 17, 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal.
In 2011, NABR worked with Dr. Leslie DeNardis, political science professor at Sacred Heart University, to develop a questionnaire for Barlow graduates. The goal was to see if they had any helpful suggestions for improving the curriculum. The survey was sent to the graduated class of 2010, with the results complied by Dr. DeNardis.
In 2012, NABR began and continued to maintain a website (www.SmartTowns.org) that highlighted proven ways local governments can simultaneously reduce costs while improving the quality of their services.
In 2017, NABR and the Yankee Institute co-published a study by EdChoice Foundation analyst Martin Lueken, showing how much the Connecticut could save by partially subsiding 10% of K-12 students to take advantage of non-public alternatives (private and parochial schools, home schooling, online academies, etc.). The study has inspired at least two imitators in other states: one published in 2020 by New Jersey’s E-3 Foundation and another currently being conducted by New York’s Manhattan Institute.