Hebron Dollars & Sense
- Created on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 19:36
- Written by Marie Egbert
A respected, intelligent friend in town sent an email to me. Basic message was that we need to remain focused on all budget issues in town .. the town, RHAM, HBOE and the CIP requests. We need to participate now (during the process) and not be accused of entering the discussion(s) too late. Bottom line: go to meetings, read posted minutes, write to officials for clarification of something you do not understand, keep up with state mandates, write Pam Sawyer and Cathy Osten about "unfunded state mandates" that impact on small communities like ours. The recommendation to keep informed and make meaningful contributions to the discussion was impressive. In addition, my friend stated that statements must be supported with truthful information and any suggested line-item cuts in a budget should include lawful alternatives. The email was excellent and focused on RHAM but the ideas can be used across the board during budget season. I have incorporated most if not all of the email ideas into this article.
Major categories that impact on the budgets are Payroll, Health Insurance, and transportation. The time to keep salaries and benefits in line is when contracts are negotiated. If possible, the public and the BOS and BOF should attend these negotiations.
Other issues are in the buzz catch-all phrase "Education Reform". To root out BAD teachers (shielded by tenure), there is an unfunded mandate that places a financial burden on the local communities. Every teacher in every school district must be observed "in action" during the year with specific parameters of pre/post meetings for every observation, data collection and input into a specialized database. Reports will be sent to State Board of Education (SBE). The "observer" must be a certified school administrator. Can the superintendents add this task to a current administrator's job description or will we be forced to hire more administrators who will "watch" teachers do their job and report their findings. In addition the districts will need a full time database administrator who will be assigned to collect the data reported, format it and feed it to the state.
Keep up with proposed and real changes to our tax laws. For example, the elimination of the car tax will equate to less town "revenue" and create a need to locate another source. Grant money is always thought of as "free" money but grants are funded by our tax dollars. This source of funding continues to decline and is usually doled out to poorest performing schools. Great test scores are the pride of Hebron; the irony is we will be required to spend more to comply with state mandates because no grant money will be awarded to Hebron without the label of low performance.
RHAM's budget is shared by Hebron, Andover and Marlborough. Each town's budget responsibility is determined by the percentage make-up of students from each town for that budget year. The final tally of the votes from all three towns determines whether the RHAM budget passes or fails. We must encourage a better turnout for the referendum vote. Hebron feeds more students into RHAM, therefore we currently pay more of the RHAM budget. Our voice may be lost with low turnout especially if Andover & Marlborough have a larger turnout than ours.
ALL non-mandates can legally be cut from school budgets. We need to focus on getting the most bang out of our dollar and yet offer all the core subjects required by law. With limited resources, what is our responsibility for athletics? Our dollar can only stretch so far .. read through the public comments at meetings. In January during public comment, one resident mentioned artificial turf and lights for the playing fields. Should we allocate a portion of our revenue dollars for this expenditure? How many participants are needed to elevate an activity to a "team" sport at the school. If there are no funds to support an activity, why not maintain it at the "club" level like a debate team, computer club etc. Where are the parent booster organizations that could provide support to these athletic teams ?
What can taxpayers do?
Show up at Board meetings. Without public input, we are leaving final decisions to so few people on each board: BOS, BOF, HBOE , RHAM and the CIP committee. Research the issues before commenting, stay on subject and be truthful.
Have real solutions. It's not enough to say "cut administration" without figuring out what that suggestion means in terms of impact. Make thoughtful comments on reductions and remain legally compliant
Read up on the Governor's Education Reform Plan at ctedreform.org and on the State Board of Education website. Know what is mandated (what we as a district must support through the budget).
We should not be “penny wise and pound foolish“. Due to year after year of budget cuts, our buildings need repairs. Check out the CIP decisions and provide input on which line-items make sense, and which line items are out of reach for what we can afford; decide if the request is a must have or belongs on a "wish" list to be funded in the future.
Don't limit your discussion to the town boards -- contact Pam Sawyer and Cathy Osten. Tell them they must get to work to ensure the actions of our Governor stop adding costs to our local school districts without funding. Tell them to open dialogue with the school boards in rural towns to make sure our voice is not drowned out by the large cities.
We need input from the residents "before" the budgets are finalized for referendum, We must open conversations between the boards and the public and remind the boards that the tax payers attending/speaking at public meetings are concerned, involved residents and should be treated respectfully. Issues should be discussed in an open forum to help the tax-payers understand "why" some budget items are being supported and others discarded.