Is it me or does budget season feel like “Groundhog Day”? For the last several years, the tri-board meeting has left the municipal side and schools with a rough idea of what the town can afford in increases and the request for all to submit a level service budget.
Each of those years, the municipal budget has come in at or very near the suggested number.
On the school side, the guidance is never enough to provide a level service. It never will be. Costs are outpacing revenue.
So, the hand-wringing starts, and ideas are floated on what will need to be eliminated. This year, after two years of the unpopular proposal to eliminate freshman sports, it was decided that teaching positions should be on the chopping block. Given the lack of public outcry, it appears that proposal was more palatable to parents.
That has got people talking. And I’m not referencing the commentary of keyboard warriors.
There is a tremendous amount of frustration that proponents, including some members of the school committee, are of the opinion that everything the town (aka the voters) has approved outside of school spending is proof that the community does not make education a priority.
The people who are being directly served by our schools barely engage and when they do are more outraged over cutting freshman sports than they are over eliminating teachers. They need a gut check.
How is it that a vote FOR beach nourishment, pickleball, disc golf, skate parks, boardwalk reconstruction, adequate bathroom facilities at our beaches, an investment in affordable senior housing (which preserves the playing fields for our youth) and senior center (with a gymnasium for the community) could be construed as a vote against our schools?
Aside from the fact some monies are coming from funding sources that cannot be used for the school budget, those amenities make contributions to the quality of life for all residents, many of which will provide something for youth the other 185 days they aren’t in school. In addition, some attract tourists, who indirectly fund the budget. Others will service a vulnerable segment of our population.
Just as there are responsibilities associated with serving children and families, there are needs that have to be met for the rest of our population. Whether we choose to meet them or not, there is an associated cost—just as there are costs whether or not we provide a quality education for our children.
Since the changes in school administration, parents and students were asked what they wanted and the district obliged. Administrators were replaced, scheduling was amended, buildings were improved and programs were added. The community has supported budget increases to do all that.
Unfortunately, it’s beginning to feel like no matter what we do, it will never be enough.
Dr. Gould is obviously frustrated. She has given the people what they said they wanted, and there is still a continued exodus. But a “it’s not us, it’s you” stance won’t change that. There needs to be a shift in thinking and an effort not to take the choices made by parents for the good of their children personally.
Maybe it’s time to examine the strategic plan and question the veracity of the surveys that were used as a driver. They were disseminated at a time when board members and residents were vehemently defending the use of social media for engagement and using online commentary as a litmus of public opinion. There was little recognition that those forums mainly served as echo chambers for those who were disgruntled over the reconfiguration. Now, years later, we have enough evidence to know that once an idea takes hold, it’s nearly impossible to reverse public opinion. Facts be damned.
And the school committee needs to recognize that it is not the community at large that doesn’t have its priorities straight. The people who are being directly served by our schools barely engage and when they do are more outraged over cutting freshman sports than they are over eliminating teachers. They need a gut check. The fact that discussions about curriculum and test scores—both of which are used by families making the choice on where to buy a home or educate their children and colleges to quantify quality of education—prompt less feedback than how to make snow days and the school calendar more convenient. It seems there is a disconnect on what it means to provide a quality education. Money won’t fix that.