To the editor:
This year’s Financial Town Meeting (FTM) promises to be another fight to keep a lid on taxes. A vocal minority of parents who want to implement All-day Kindergarten have entered a motion to be voted on at the FTM that raises the school budget by an additional $633,000, more than doubling the proposed tax increase. This motion should be voted down because it raises taxes unnecessarily at a time when only a small tax increase is warranted.
The Appropriations Committee has worked very hard to propose a responsible budget that is in the best interest of ALL taxpayers and one that takes into account the needs of the entire Town. The function of the Committee is to examine the proposed budgets of the Municipal government, the Schools, and the Capital Committee, and recommend to the electors (you) a budget at the FTM. This year, as in most years, the municipal side of government turned in a reasonable budget; the capital requirements are in line, even decreasing; and a proposed bond will allow us to repave some roads badly in need of repair. That leaves the schools, which are faced with declining enrollment, stable overhead costs, a new curriculum standard (Common Core), and a desire to extend Kindergarten from half-day to full-day.
The School Committee had the power to live within their means this year. They negotiated a contract with the teachers’ union knowing that they must purchase computers required for testing, and knowing that they want to institute All-day K. The budget proposed to the Appropriations Committee in March allowed a cost of $144,000 for All-day K. Suspiciously, that number ballooned to $633,000 right after the union contract was ratified. Who knew the real number, and when, is an appropriate question (and one that should be answered). Was the COA purposely misled? But, even with this egregious error, the budget could have been made to work if the School Committee had negotiated to just reduce longevity pay (a bonus that the teachers receive for staying in the job). This was well within their power and they chose not to ‘rock the boat.’ So, what do you do when you want to spend more than you have?
How about delaying gratification? All-day Kindergarten can wait one more year. The School Superintendant agrees. And, I believe this is the proper position. Contrary to the ideas of certain parties, the children will perform at the high level that Barrington children always perform. By waiting until the next budget year when Barrington will receive another increase in State aid of over $600,000, this program will be more easily integrated into the budget. Of course, increasing teacher compensation by $3 million over the next three years doesn’t make it easy. And, of course, that’s exactly what the new contract does.
The Financial Town Meeting is direct democracy in action. A simple majority of votes determines the outcome. But, for many years now, apathy and fear have kept citizens from attending this very New England tradition. A ballot vote this year will spare frugal citizens the icy glare of people who disagree with them; and frugal parents will be spared the fear of reprisal on their children that an unpopular vote might garner. One would think that $45 million is adequate to educate 3,300 students. If you do, then please go to the Financial Town Meeting this Wednesday and vote down the amendment to increase the school budget.
Mr. Grove is a member of the Barrington Committee on Appropriations.