I’ve been seriously trying to write a post about the on-going school budget debates, but it seems that every time I do something else happens, or there hasn’t been enough solid information to write an intelligent post. It seems we are now at the breaking point where State funding is set, board members have filed for re-election or election and things have gotten ugly. We have been dealt with more aid cuts and the fight to save programs continues to rage.
As I see it, there are basically two issues at play as we draw closer to the big budget vote.
1). There is a decisive rift between those who believe our budget crisis is a funding issue evolved from years of steady decline in State funding and those that believe the district has an expenditure issue that goes way back. Then there is the silent majority that has no idea what to make of it all and are tired of rising school taxes each year despite the cuts in school programs. Paying more for less gets old very fast. You can find me in the third group.
2). There are also similar factions that have an ax to grind ever since the emotional closing of the George Washington Elementary and those board members who voted for it are slowly getting picked off at each election.
The result is an internet war between these factions and it has gotten beyond ugly with hate, vitriol, stupid cartoons, bigotry and baseless accusations. I have considered an attempt at constructive discussion with participants on one blog but it seems that if my child was not part of the GWS closing, my opinion doesn’t mean anything. The other seems to have its head in the clouds and I cannot deal with that either.
The feud has resulted in large signs recently popping up on Rt 43 accusing two board members of leading the school district to ruin (and yes, they voted for the closure of GWS) and accusations are flying as to who is responsible for putting up the signs. One appalling, and public, accusation is that a sitting Board member assisted in erecting those signs. Yikes.
Last night there was a BOE meeting where the signs were publically decried and apparently names were brought up. Amongst all of this craziness, I am still trying to figure out whether or not the Board adopted a budget! Thankfully, this meeting stayed out of the media but it makes getting info a little difficult without resorting to consulting the feuding blogs of the McCoys and Hatfields. Anyone??
My view from 5,000 feet is that it is both a revenue and expenditure problem. Until some kind of compromise can be made and acceptance of what is reality, the district will continue to lose its programs. And yes, the State is short-sided in hammering districts like ours who are not classified as High Needs but seriously lack a tax base due to its “Bedroom Community” structure. Until we have representation with clout in the Legislature (I can’t believe I’m saying this but oh don’t we miss Joe Bruno now?) we will continue jump up and down pleading for more assistance with no one to notice us.
The expenditure issue is something we can somewhat control (unfunded mandates and mandatory expenditures aside). The district needs to stop operating as usual because it is the way it’s always been done. Things need to change, policies need to be re-examined and strive for more efficiency. Apparently we can’t apply for the State competitive grants in administrative efficiency because we don’t qualify…why the hell not??
Fixing our revenue problem is a long-term issue. The Town needs to bend and encourage bigger businesses to put down roots, and lobbying for mandate relief and an examination of the GEA cuts (see section on Gap Elimination Adjustment) for possible relief of this inequitable cut.
I’m going to try to examine different aspects of the battle beginning with an examination of peer districts and the size of their administration as compared to us. Those screaming for admin cuts may be surprised to see that we are not spending lavishly here and we are pretty much on par. Competency of those in these positions is moot…I can’t quantify that.
And when the final budget scenario is released, I will try to get that up here too. The last one I saw was on April 3 and is posted here. It ain’t pretty folks!