Letter: The adult in the room
To the editor:
As I sat in the BHS auditorium last Wednesday night, I was eerily reminded of so many of the previous budget board meetings. Not surprisingly, utter hysteria broke out at the suggestion that the school committee budget be level funded for a single year.
Then came the torrents of complaints and caterwauling that the ‘sky is falling’ from the roomful of “Chicken Littles.” Adult-Children (ostensibly parents), students, and a lady (an admittedly non-resident Brit who was allowed to speak and I don’t know why) howled that the COA cuts were a travesty, (where was the moderator when we needed her?) Oh my, how could you cut such and such a sport, a foreign language teacher or a special education aid? One Adult-Child claimed, “The COA was playing a game of chicken, one-upmanship and is jeopardizing the education of our children." “This budget is bare-bones.” It was hard do find an actual rational “Adult” in the room. Enough already.
I’ve seen Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” enough times to know its predictable ending as well as I know the fanciful, irksome, tiresome ending to a COA meeting such as this. It seems to me that many who spoke were untethered to the financial reality of many residents in town, and/or had a tortured relationship to the truth regarding school and town finances.
If I may say again, many in town, cannot afford and do not support the proposed tax increase.
No one is saying no to the new middle school, just to the extravagance of an ostentatious over-build. These are of course the same folks who claim the new middle school of $68.1 million is a done deal and shouldn’t be spoken about any longer since it was voted on and approved twice… these people don’t like free speech either. For the record, the middle school was indeed voted for. The voters however were never given the details, just the maximum cost. To this day, we still don’t know what is behind the curtain, or what, if any, attempts have been made to lower the final cost. The electorate voted blindly because we knew we needed a new middle school, and we trusted our elected officials.
Truth be told, if you were unhappy with the results that these 5 members of the C.O.A. proposed, please consider the following facts:
• The C.O.A. has not handed out recent multi-year, million dollar contracts and raises to school and town employees. The school committee and town council have.
• The C.O.A. did not singularly propose a nearly $70 million middle school bond project that will saddle taxpayers with more than an average $400 increase per home tax bill for 25 years (and as we now know will exceed the 4 percent state cap). The school committee did.
• Neither the school committee nor the town council convened the Ad Hoc Budget Forecast Committee the last two years, whose mission was to create a strategic multi-year spending plan. Perhaps, had they forecasted their intent, voices could have impacted this extravagant building scheme.
• The C.O.A. cannot “redline” individual school budget items (by state law), hamstringing it from making targeted cuts. It is the school administration’s responsibility to make significant cuts. Instead, it is now targeting the pennies saved by cutting programs that will bring out those impacted personally, and in droves.
• The C.O.A. is our only defense against profligate, irresponsible spending by both town and school departments, is an advocate for fair, balanced and affordable budgets and must “listen” to all voices, reasoned and otherwise whilst making difficult decisions.
• The C.O.A. doesn’t “play chicken, politics, or poker”. Their “Code of Conduct” is to be fair, impartial arbiters of our tax dollars. It must represent both municipal and school operations. It comes with a heavy price. I witnessed this, once again last Wednesday. It is a non-partisan board whose sole purpose is to protect the town’s assets and the taxpayers hard-earned scratch.
The COA, had no involvement in any budget deliberations prior to receiving them by the first Monday in March (according to the town charter). If you are displeased with the recommendations of the C.O.A. this year I have a suggestion for you. “Train your fire” on the School Committee, the superintendent and his staff. They have collectively created this financial firestorm.
They have no multi-year spending plan, no vision, and no creative ideas to reduce expenses. And they have not even asked school employees to share the sacrifice in this one difficult year. Further, they’ve not lead by agreeing to take a pay cut in the amount of the tax increase on their own. The town is now at the breaking point, not due to the COA recommendations, but due to poor fiscal management and strategic planning by the school department. By the way, the town council comes in a close second.
So, to all of you on the C.O.A., I thank you for your diligence, perseverance, patience and service. There is no less enviable volunteer position in town. There are many of us who support your very difficult job; a thankless one, given “the cards you’ve been dealt.”
I support the C.O.A., their work and their mission. And I would ask that you do the same at this F.T.M. They’ve helped fill the leadership vacuum that now exists in our town.
I am thankful that there was at least one “adult” in the room last Wednesday. It was the COA.