If you have followed the school budget process for 2010-11, you won’t be surprised that I have an opinion. You have seen me speak, write, critique, chastise, laud and praise. This was an unprecedented process for the community, a true soul-searching to come up with a solution to a daunting task. The school administration and board had to close an almost $3.5mm gap created by uncontrollable increases without significantly hurting the students.
As someone who has dug through the line items, presented on the big picture, organized with the citizenship, met with our board and testified before our state legislators, I think I’m in a fair position to hand out a grade.
But that will have to wait….
No one has ever said, “I hope I can pay more this year in taxes!” We all would like a decrease, especially when the consumer price index (CPI) is so close to 0 and we all know someone who has lost a job or gone without an increase for the past two years. It’s too bad that during the good times (some short 3 year ago) we never considered that things might turn bad. But here we are: our contractual obligations have bitten us in the rear, pension funds have lost 30% requiring taxpayers to make up the difference and health care costs continue to sky-rocket.
But you’ve heard this all before. You think it’s an excuse and there’s still waste in the system. Well there is waste, but not that much. The system will find a few thousand more, and perhaps they won’t fill a contingency position, saving a salary or two. But for the most part, we’re down to brass tacks. Savings will be found next year and they won’t be spent. They’ll, go back into the budget for 2012 as excess from the current year, so there is still an opportunity to save beyond the current budget.
I watched closely the give and take, the questioning on what more could be done and I feel we have started a real turnaround. Fiscal responsibility is now clearly on the mind of our administration. We have hired a new superintendant who understands that preserving quality with fiscal restraint is of the utmost importance to the community. Strengthening our system by embracing long range planning in light of the upcoming contract negotiations will pay huge dividends.
Some say it still is not enough, perhaps, but how much more cutting should we do? Is almost 100 positions in 2 years not enough? Is cutting 9 athletic teams not enough? Is increasing class sizes in some cases over the maximum board guideline not enough? Should more arts and music activities be cut? More clubs cut? More professional development cut?
Many have answered yes: more cuts should be made, we are all sacrificing so why shouldn’t there be more sacrifice in the schools. The simple answer is “The Children.”, It’s not just our job but our duty to protect them, and we need to give them all we can. We must maintain continuity and not go through fits and stops in the education process. There are responsible ways to make adjustments and simply pulling the legs out from under our children serves no one.
This is why I am saying: “Now is NOT the time to say no.” The system needs an overhaul, but not mid-stream. All the parties need to come to the table and examine what will be done for the long haul. This budget is a band-aid and surgery is required. Let’s not turn a bleed into a hemorrhage.
So how did I grade:
(B-) for being a little late to the game
(A+) for transparency and collaboration
(A) for dedication and thoughtfulness
All and all, a solid A. I hope you join me in voting YES for the budget on May 18th.