I attended the board of education meeting on Tuesday, April 10, and was impressed with the attention to detail and conservatism of both the administration and the board of education as it considered the final details prior to approving the budget that will be presented to the voters on May 15.
The budget spending increase has been set at 5.44 percent, and the tax levy increase will be less than that, approximately 4.9 percent (the reason for the difference is that the budget is a spending plan, and cannot by law take into account any revenues. However, the tax levy increase represents the increase in spending after state and other revenues are accounted for).
There was a lot of discussion at the board meeting, between members of the board, the administration, members of staff, and the public on a number of matters including cuts in the technology budget (cut by $150,000 from the first iteration of the budget), custodial services (two cleaners were cut from the original proposal of three but a single proposed cleaner was retained), and ESL (the successful interim has been continued in the budget, and in the absence of a qualified full-time candidate for the position of director the reduced budget allocation for just the interim has been retained).
But the thing that really made me stop and think was the fact that all this wrangling and agonizing over what to cut and how much and what to retain and what's justified was that they were talking about a very small piece of the pie.
The increase this year totals just under $6 million. Salary increases (a bone of contention for some, but not for this writer, who would rather spend her tax dollars on school teachers than on sending soldiers to war, but that's just my politics), some of which are included in the new teacher's contract, account for $3.7+ million of that. A reminder: This contract increases the working week for teachers and significantly increases their contribution to health insurance, which is very good for us taxpayers. We have another $2.1 million increase in providing appropriate education to the increasing numbers of special education students in town. So the money the district is trying to whittle down comes to about $200,000. The increase that they are looking at is very, very small.
While I appreciate the effort that goes into this attention to detail and the many hours of work that staff spend at many levels of the administration, from department chairs to principals to the business office, not to mention the superintendent and the board of education, I can only imagine the 'soaring achievement' we might see if this amount of energy could be unleashed on curriculum development. I say, pass the budget and let's get on with the work of teaching our children.