The Board of Selectmen and Advisory Committee meet with the School Committee tonight to go over the K-8 budget. It’s a budget that has inspired significant debate on this blog in the past week (67 comments and counting).
At their meeting last week, the K-8 School Committee voted unanimously to add $50K to the proposed $17M budget in the hopes of restoring one of the teaching positions lost last year. School committee members said it was an attempt to lower class sizes, particularly in the current fourth and fifth grades which have as many as 24 students per class.
Part of the discussion among readers of this blog has been whether or not lowering class size translates to higher-quality education.
In what is perhaps a preview of tonight’s meeting, Selectman John Rooney weighed in on the blog with his thoughts about the budget. You can read his full comment here, but he wrote in part:
There is little chance that this type of discussion about education reform will never take place in our town because there is less political risk in continuing to dump more and more money into a broken funding system that rewards the status quo rather than change the system to improve outcomes for students. Yet, as a community, we need to really drill down to the reality and understand the undisputable data. Instead of simply increasing funding for education, we need to have school leaders implement education reforms that improve resource allocation. Resources need to be allocated differently rather than simply increased. The present teacher pay system provides no way to distinguish between a good teacher and a bad teacher. Both can expect the same salary and promotion pattern, regardless of the performance of their students.
Tonight’s joint meeting between the selectmen, Advisory Committee, and School Committee starts at 7:30 pm at the Library at Trottier Middle School (on the second floor) and is open to the public. You can come and just listen to the discussion, or speak up and share your thoughts.
If you’d like to take a look at the budget numbers in advance, I’ve included links to both the K-8 and regional budgets below. The K-8 budget has been approved by the school committee. The regional budget has not yet been voted on.
As of this morning the Advisory website showed a budget that would require a 7.5% tax increase. This number will be whittled down over the next week but anyway you look at it we are facing a substantial tax increase if we continue with the status quo.
I could support a tax increase to provide vital municipal services and quality schools if I believed that the considerable resources already provided by the citizens of Southborough were being effectively and efficiently deployed. I regret that I do not believe this to be the case. Decades of not facing difficult decisions have left our government bloated and wasteful. The rallying cry is “This is how we have always done it” or “It is just a cost of doing business” are offered on a regular basis instead of analysis, innovation and cost cutting. Here are just a few things that if done would close the budget gap and make our town leaner and more efficient:
1. Operate the transfer station as an enterprise fund. The sticker fees do not cover the costs of operation and they should. Let those who want to dispose of their trash at the transfer station pay the full cost of the service. There is no reason to force those that choose private haulers to subsidize the transfer station with their tax dollars.
2. Perform an independent and through assessment of the 3 school option. If we chose to operate in a 3 school system what would it cost to make the change? How would it effect other municipal facilities. My admittedly quick study suggests that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings in operating costs and the opportunity to gain millions as we sell off our old dilapidated buildings.
3. Keep our police cruisers for 120k miles instead of 80k. Every time I ran the numbers it is cheaper to maintain a cruiser than to sell it for a few hundred dollars and buy a new one.
4. Revamp the counter services in Town Hall. There is no good reason why you should not be able to get a dog license, register to vote, pay your taxes, make a request for an abutters list, apply for a building permit or get a transfer station sticker at a single service counter. This would also permit extended service hours instead of the recent status quo trend of reduced hours.
5. Continue the trend of making all municipal transactions available on line all year round. End the silly practice of only being able to get a transfer station sticker on line for part of the year.
6. Buy smaller less expensive, more efficient police cruisers. No only will these cost less to acquire and operate they will start to make a dent in the 500,000 lbs of greenhouse gases the Crown Vic’s emit.
7. Charge a full market rate for the Superintendent’s office in Neary.
8. After school programs should pay their own way, no subsidy for staff or facilities. The Rec dept has made the transition to this model and so should after school programs.
9. Consider curtailing some sports with very high costs that serve a modest population.
10. Close and sell Fayville Hall and the adjacent empty lot. The equipment and functions can fit elsewhere in our inventory.
11. Reevaluate how we service and maintain our vehicles.
12. Recalculate Police Detail rates to recoup the labor costs AND pension and retirement benefits costs as well as all administrative costs.
This list is not new and others have similar lists. What has been lacking is the will to address these inefficient practices. The result is the system we have. If we can make a significant dent in this list I can support a tax increase to fund the balance but if not then we are just sticking our head in the sand and blindly asking the taxpayers to pony up more money because we don’t want to tackle some hard problems.
Point 6 is somewhat moot: The Crown Vic is going out of production this year in favor of more efficient vehicles. That’s not to say we shouldn’t still be looking for more efficient/cheaper vehicles rather than the coolest brawniest beast out there when replacement time rolls around.
I bet we will try to but the last one built. Why give up on the best 1970’s automotive technology Detroit can offer.