A Reasonable School Budget

It’s time to start gearing up for another round of school budget votes. (Hopefully only one this year!) And it’s more important than ever to make sure accurate facts are out there right from the get go. The latest article in our local online paper, The Daily Bulldog, does an excellent job reporting the ins and outs of the new budget proposal. If you read it in its entirety, it’s clear there are many different factors going into this budget. But if you scan through it and look for a “bottom line” figure, it’s easy to latch on to that 5% increase over last year’s budget.

And sure enough, the budget hawks are already rattling their sabers. “5% is too much!”” The school board is out of touch!” They’re trying all sorts of measures to get their way*, but each effort simply distracts from the central message. When you look at the actual figures**, our school board has kept things remarkably level for the past 5 years. Check it out:

Year Local Assessment Change Total Budget Change Enrollment Change
2014-2015 $12.18 million n/a $31.04 million n/a 2,338 n/a
2015-2016 $13.12 million +7.8% $32.04 million +3.2% 2,337 0%
2016-2017 $12.81 million -2.4% $32.75 million +2.2% 2,288 -2.1%
2017-2018 $12.54 million -2.1% $33.63 million +2.7% 2,354 +2.9%
2018-2019 $13 million +3.7% $35.32 million +5.0% 2,429 +3.2%
Five Year Difference $0.82 million +6.7% $4.28 million +13.8% 91 +3.9%

It’s true that if you just look at the total budget, it’s gone up $4.28 million over the last five years, an increase of 13.8% (spread out over five years, mind you.) But when you start to drill down, you see that the local assessment (the amount we actually have to pay in our property taxes) has hovered around $13 million the whole time. Yes, it’s up 6.7% over the five years, but our school size is up 3.9% in that same time. It costs more to teach more students. And inflation comes into play as well.

To me, it seems like the school board had one extreme year (2015-2016). There was a huge sticker shock associated from that 7.8% increase in a single year, and that galvanized a group of people who felt the school budget was going up too fast. Except it has stopped that steep increase. (An increase, by the way, due to a last minute change that year to the way the State funds school districts.) There’s no argument to be had that it’s going up too fast, because in the two years since that steep increase, it actually went down for us. The school board did what we asked them to: they found ways to both give our students an excellent education AND keep costs down for local taxpayers.

The total budget number is covered by a variety of other sources. Independent donations. State subsidies. The local assessment is the number we need to keep an eye on. And when you take into account how many new students have come into the area (yay!), that 6.7% increase seems even more reasonable.

So don’t listen to the nay-sayers. This is already a reasonable budget proposal that’s doing its best to maintain a balance. We have a good school board who does a good job. Come out to the budget meetings, support this budget, and vote for it when it comes time. Here are some important dates to write down:

  • March 26th–Vote in Farmington for your school board to select your school board representatives.
  • May 1st–Vote in the school board meeting to approve the budget.
  • May 15th–Vote in town to officially pass the budget.

*This time around, they’re now trying a new approach: change the makeup of the school board itself. Our school district consists of 10 different towns. Some of those towns are very small. Some of those towns are comparatively large. In the current system, each town’s school board member receives a weighted vote, according to how big or small that town is. So a bigger town like Farmington has a bigger portion of the vote. We currently have 16 school board members: 1 each from Weld, New Vineyard, New Sharon, Starks, Industry, Vienna, Chesterville, and Temple, 3 from Wilton, and 5 from Farmington.

Under the new system they’re proposing, this would change to 10 members (one from each town). Each member’s vote would count the same. So Weld (population 419) would have a vote equal to Farmington (population 7,760). On the surface, that’s preposterous. To make it legal, they’d have to also switch the way school board members are elected. Currently, each town votes for only their ow representatives. Under the new system, the whole district would vote for each representative. So Weld would have some nominees, and then all voters in all towns would vote for which nominee they prefer.

This doesn’t really “fix” anything, if the argument is that Farmington has too big of a vote. All it does is make it so now Farmington gets to select who the representative from Weld will be. I personally would think the small towns would prefer to keep selecting their own representatives. It would be like California voting for Rhode Island’s Senators. The current system works just fine and has for years. Why go through all these hoops to try and change it?

**All figures drawn from here, here, and here.


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