A Late School Budget Meeting

It’s June, and that means it’s school budget time again. Last year, the budget was voted down before it even got to a public referendum, and I’d sworn to do better this year, so last night Denisa and I trekked over to the high school for the “vote before the vote.” Basically, the school board had proposed a budget, and this was the public hearing where people would vote to accept that budget, so that we could then vote again whether or not to approve the budget in two weeks.

As has been par for the course, I was anticipating a contentious meeting, and this one definitely delivered on that. You had a large group of proponents both for and against the school budget being accepted, and both sides were very vocal. That’s fine. It’s what democracy is all about.

What wasn’t so fine was the name calling and rhetoric used, particularly by the people who had shown up to vote the budget down.

Without getting into specifics (because I really have no desire to spend much more time discussing a meeting that ran three hours last night), here are a few observations:

  • The people who were against the budget being approved are using unfair, misleading rhetoric. Claiming that the teachers were the ones who voted their own budget through is just patently false. It was an open meeting, and anyone could show up. Were the teachers who live in the district supposed to abstain? All I can say is that I am not a teacher. My wife is not a teacher. I saw many friends there who are not teachers and are not employed by the district. We were all voting in favor of the budget. Not because it lines our pockets, but because it was a fair budget, carefully constructed. It’s very easy to sit back and snipe a budget to death, picking it apart and questioning every little dollar figure. But going beyond that to claim that the board was trying to lie or deceive or trick the populace was beyond a low blow.
  • The voters trying to lower the budget hurt their cause by trying to lower budget areas that didn’t pertain to their main arguments. When teacher salaries were being voted on, the arguments instead focused on administrator salaries and facilities expenditures. And yet by the time administrator salaries and facilities finally came up, most of the people against the budget had already left the meeting. When making an argument, make sure to keep it focused. Otherwise, it looks more like you’re just blindly trying to reduce a budget with no real plan on how to make that actually feasible.
  • I’m all for democracy, but my lanta that meeting went long, even when it was clear that the various lines were all going to pass. I understand why Roberts Rules of Order can be a good thing, but I really hate it when things end up getting bogged down and petty. Why even make motions to amend the budget when you know full well that they’re not going to pass at that point?
  • Bringing a fist full of statistics to a public meeting like that carries no weight with me. As a librarian, I know how easy it is to manipulate data and massage things to make numbers support whatever you want them to support. Frankly, the numbers on either side of the argument hold little water when they’re presented in a forum like that. If I don’t know you and have never talked to you before, how in the world should I be expected to trust you’re someone who will find reliable, quality information? And when you openly admit that you’re the one sifting through and interpreting all that information, and you clearly have a bias . . .
  • The meeting at the beginning seemed aimed at trying to have the two sides persuade each other of the rightness of their argument. In the end, it seemed to me to be more a veneer than any real interest in engaging in actual dialogue. Once it was clear the Ayes were going to have it, the Nays packed up and grumbled off, leaving before they’d had a chance to put forward the arguments they supposedly had for ways to reduce the budget in some areas, like facilities. After thinking about it, I’m far from convinced a forum like we had last night is the right venue for such a debate to occur. Minds had already been made up.
  • Of course, the local newspaper is where the “dialogue” often ends up happening, and the faceless nature of online comment sections brings out the worst in people. Dip your toes in the comment section at your own risk. The bottom line is that the time for informing yourself about the budget was weeks and months earlier, throughout the process.
  • In general, I found a lot of the grandstanding to be a waste of time. A chance for people spout off about anything on their mind, with a captive audience that couldn’t budge. The applause made things even more uncomfortable, especially early on, when it was up in the air which “side”  was winning. Not an atmosphere conducive to reasoned discussion and changing minds.
  • As I think about it, maybe the solution to this is to have the people elect officials to get together to discuss the budget at length, looking at it from all sides, in a reasoned, logical manner. And then those people, who represent their individual towns, could present that budget to the people at large, and the people at large could rest assured that the proper legwork had been done.  We could call that group of elected officials by a fancy name. How about “School Board”? Yeah. That’s the ticket . . .

Anyway. Enough is enough, The actual vote will be on June 14th. While I hope the budget passes, it’ll be what it will be. Part of living in a democracy is that we will sometimes have views that the majority of voters don’t share. That swings both ways. To paint the other side as close-minded or flat out wrong benefits no one. Though I’ll admit one very large reason I hope the budget passes is so I can avoid going to another meeting like I went to last night.

2 Comments

  • By Joel Cundick, June 2, 2016 @ 12:34 pm

    They say there are two things you never want to see being made: sausage, and a government bill. Guess it applies to school budgets as well. What is amazing to me is that anything has ever been accomplished with both sides ever being thus – pick the level you like, local, state or national. Kudos to you and Denisa for rolling up your sleeves and participating in the process.

  • By Bryce Moore, June 2, 2016 @ 12:37 pm

    Thanks. It wasn’t pretty–that’s for sure.

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