Once More to the School Board Budget Breach

On Tuesday evening, our school board budget committee met to continue discussions for next year’s budget. And sure as the night follows day, the comment section in the local online paper went straight for the torches and pitchforks. (I imagine they each have a large glass case with a pitchfork next to their computer, boldly emblazoned in red with “IN CASE OF SCHOOL BUDGET BREAK GLASS.”)

It’s really important each year that we not let the comments section of The Daily Bulldog set the tone for our school budget debate. It’s too easy to shift the footing into areas that stop making sense. The knee-jerk objection this year is to the bottom line increase: $1.35 million.

I get it. That’s a lot of money, especially right now in these uncertain economic times. Granted, it’s only a 3.64% increase compared to last year’s budget, but the standard rate of inflation last year was around 2.2%, which means this does, indeed, raise the bottom line.

However, for those hardy souls willing to read beyond the third paragraph of the article, it’s quickly apparent that there’s more to this budget than the bottom line. (As is always the case.) Since the debate inevitably shifts to “This costs the local people more money,” let’s look at what the proposed budget would do to the actual local expenses.

On the whole, it would increase them by .45% (including Adult Education).

Of course, the way the overall cost is distributed throughout all the towns is dependent on a number of other factors, so the actual impact to each resident of different towns would be different. It’s listed in the article in paragraph form, but I’ll break it out into bullet points for clarity:

  • Chesterville: 2.39% decrease
  • Farmington: 1.46% decrease
  • Industry: 2.64%
  • New Sharon: 2.11%
  • New Vineyard: 3.51%
  • Starks: 6.88%
  • Temple: 0.98%
  • Vienna: 2.13%
  • Weld: 3.42% decrease
  • Wilton: 1.72%

(Note that the article in the Bulldog gets a bit muddled. I’m taking this directly from the school board budget presentation.)

Now, you could certainly debate how the costs are shared out among the different towns. I don’t know how that’s calculated, and I am not an accountant. (I believe it all comes down to overall town valuations and how they each compare to each other, but someone better in the know would have to speak to that.) But the bottom line is that over the past five years, the school budget has increased an average of .55% per year in terms of its cost to locals. (That includes this year.)

What’s more, it’s clear from the article that there are still areas that are up in the air: a $2-$2.5 million surplus from this year due to to the school shutdown, possible additional federal funds of $600,000, and discussion of the Success & Innovation Center’s funding.

But if you look at those comments, the school board might as well have proposed plating the toilets in the high school in solid gold. Most of the increase is being covered by the state. Don’t punish your local school district because you’re upset about state-level requirements and issues. Take that up with the state.

In last year’s vote, New Vineyard and Chesterville were the two towns to vote against the budget. (It passed with 909 yes votes and 445 nos.) Starks, which to my memory always sees the biggest increase year after year, approved it 50 to 5. Why? Because Starks tried to go it alone for a bit, and they realize the value of a solid school system.

These increases are far from egregious. For reference, New Sharon approved a 3.6% increase for its town budget at their annual town meeting this year. Farmington’s proposed increase was 6.2% before the world went into a tailspin. I’m not sure if it was voted through or not. I list those two examples just to show that the people who are going for the pitchforks for the school budget don’t seem to have the same passion about other areas of local taxes. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think they should. I haven’t seen anyone around me lining their pockets at the expense of tax payers. I think we live in a frugal spot of the country and the state. But that’s not what the budget hawks would have the populace believe when it comes to the school.

So when this comes up online or in your social circles, don’t let that $1.35 million increase go unchallenged. Does that mean this budget should go through as-is? No. It’s still being discussed, and it isn’t set in stone yet. If people continue to have concerns about specific line items (increased positions, or decreased positions for that matter), they should email their school board members or the superintendent.

But let’s put the pitchforks down for now.


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