The Budget Didn’t Pass. Again.

I’ve had several people ask me how the school budget vote went yesterday. I’ve been pretty vocal about my support of it, so it makes sense I drop in to update you all to let you know it was voted down. Complete results are listed here.

It’s interesting to me that a bond for funding school infrastructure managed to pass despite its lack of support. I imagine some of that is because the sentiment against the budget is aimed at administrator salaries more than anything, so once that’s separated from the issue, it becomes less contentious. (Although that bond barely passed, so it’s not like too many conclusions can be drawn from it.)

I debated even posting at all today. Inevitably the No side shows up to gloat. I know there are many decent, upstanding people on the No side, and that I can’t judge an entire group based on the actions of a few, but I will say there are some individuals out in front of the No side that are loud, vocal, and obnoxiously rude. People who, if they were on my side, I would do my best to distance myself from. People who I feel are making this whole process much worse and contentious than it should be.

In the end, I decided to post anyway. Because I’m not going to let some brash, tactless mouthbreather dictate what I do and don’t say online. And I’d already written a big post to a few friends, talking about what I thought about the results. Here’s that, which represents most of my thoughts as I woke up and read the news.

Looking over the final results, the big takeaway for me is that the No side is maxed out. They can bring out about 1,650 people to the polls each year.

In 2015, it was 741 for and 1,045 against.
In 2016, it was 1,518 for and 1,655 against.
In 2017, it is 1,458 for and 1,643 against.

Where we’re losing this is in getting out the Yes vote. I don’t honestly believe that’s due to some failure on our part to motivate people and make them aware of the issues. I believe it’s because the narrative is too strong for us to fight. An increase of 3.5% is too big of an increase for the general person to believe is absolutely necessary.

I’ll be honest: when I heard it was as big of an increase as it was, I was disappointed. I felt like it would add fodder to the no side and make passing the budget difficult. I still fought to pass it, because I trust the school board and know how complicated this can be, but if the increase is enough to give someone like me pause, is it any wonder it does the same for others? This year, it looks to me like people just didn’t think it was worth fighting for the same way as last year. I feel like our GOTV effort was much stronger, and yet we had 60 fewer votes?

Scratch that. It was specifically Wilton where things went south. 89 fewer votes for us there than last year. That means that elsewhere, we were up a total of 29 votes. Not great, but something. So what made Wilton so different? [I’ve since learned that Wilton’s taxes spiked last year, and that many attributed that spike to the school budget, despite the fact that in the school budget, Wilton’s taxes went down. The spike wasn’t due to the school budget, but the school got the blame.]

Another problem I see is that when the budget is reduced, it doesn’t result in any easy-to-see calamities. Last year, it meant we lost half of a World Languages teacher, some Ed Techs, and some contingency funds. The average person is going to shrug that off and say, “I guess there really was some fluff they could cut.” We can explain how important those positions are and what that contingency fund does, but it doesn’t make a meaningful impact. No matter what we say, that doesn’t come across as “core.”

I remember the first school budget meeting I went to. It was back when the board was proposing changes to the bus drivers so the district could save money. And it was flooded with people upset about the change. They wanted to increase the budget so that they could save those positions. Is that savings still there, ready to be gained?

As it is, I feel like even many school parents don’t feel like the budget needs saving. My daughter had multiple people make fun of her yesterday because she was outside with Denisa holding a “Vote Yes” sign in the morning. 3rd Graders don’t have opinions about the budget–their parents do. And apparently some of those parents have strong enough “No” opinions that they’re bleeding through to their kids and making their kids just as nasty as some of the “No” adults can be.

To reverse this trend, we need the board to bring forward a budget that’s flat funded. Or at least have a long, frank discussion or Letter to the Editor about what such a budget would look like. Special Education costs have to go up. So how much would we have to cut to off balance that?

Everything else we’re doing just isn’t making a dent in this problem. The No side is demanding a flat funded budget or (better yet) a budget that’s less than last year. The community needs to know what such a budget would look like. What would be cut? Until we see that, the No side can continue to bring out its straw man “reduced budget” Christmas land budget where everything is still sunshine and strawberries. Bring it into the harsh light of reality, and see what the community thinks then.

In any case, it looks like we have another round of budget meetings, and then at least one more vote for the school budget. Joy.

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