First off, yes! It did pass. But when I looked to see what the margins were like, I was shocked to see what a close call it had been. 107 votes? And it was just 53% in favor of the budget? Yikes.
I’d been hoping all along that the first time the budget didn’t pass was a fluke. That people just hadn’t been aware it was close to not passing, and that now that they knew, they’d have a strong turnout to make sure that didn’t happen. Instead, we had a real squeaker. In fact, if the same number of “No” voters had turned out yesterday, it would have easily been defeated again.
That’s troubling for a number of reasons.
First off, the “no” arguments aren’t going anywhere. When the budget comes up again next year, you can be sure they’ll be lurking there ready to demand it shrinks instead of grows. The problem as I see it (basing this on the arguments I’ve read online) is that the “no” voters really won’t be satisfied. Ever. So long as the budget is as big as it is, what they want to see is cuts and more cuts. I can’t imagine that if those cuts went through that they’d want to stop there. Keep on cutting! Or at best, don’t let the budget grow anymore after those cuts.
I would be more sympathetic to these arguments if our school district really was out of line in comparison to the other schools in the state and area, but it isn’t.
Second, there was some significant misinformation distributed during this back and forth that I found disturbing. One of the town’s selectmen (New Sharon) issued a press release making claims that were later proved to be off by a wide margin, saying that the school budget would increase their town’s taxes by $200 for every $100k of property value. In reality, it turned out to be an increase of only $75 for every $100k. That’s a big counting error there. (Interestingly, that letter has since been removed from the local news site, though you can still find a cached version on Google if you’ve got your ninja librarian skills handy.)
A press release like that comes about by one of two ways. Either it was issued by someone who was incompetent/bad at math, or it was issued by someone who was intentionally trying to mislead the public. I’m not sure which one of those options alarms me more, but neither of them give me warm fuzzies. (Add to this the fact that whole board of selectmen of New Sharon are new enough they might want to check and see if they’ve still got tags attached, and it’s even more worrisome. There’s a real trend in some places to “elect new blood” so that people can “bring government back in line.” This is an argument that makes about as much sense to me as a kick in the head. New views are important, yes, but when they come all at once, without anyone there to offer some historical insight? That can be dangerous. But that’s a topic for a different post.)
In any case, the budget passed. It’s a problem that will come around again next year, but my hope is that votes were down because it’s the middle of the summer, and a lot of the people who would traditionally support schools (teachers, families, etc.) are off doing fun summer things. Next year, we’ll just have to make sure to show up in force for the first vote, thus avoiding all this July vote nonsense.
At least, one can hope . . .