Superintendent Charles Gobron told parents and seniors at a series of budget forums last week that the schools have done all they can to trim the K-8 budget, and they don’t plan to make any more cuts in advance of town meeting. It’s a message he reiterated to selectmen last night.
The board asked the schools to cut $570K from their $16.7M budget to help lower the tax increase next year to 2 percent, but Gobron said the schools have already done all they can.
“We truly believe to cut any further will affect the quality of education and hurt students,” Gobron said.
Instead, he said they would take their chances with voters. “At this point what we’re saying is our budget will be before Town Meeting and we’ll let Town Meeting decide,” Gobron said. “We’re not in a position to cut our K-8 budget any further than we have.”
Selectman John Rooney said he believes the budget situation will be even worse next year, so now is the time to start making the hard decisions.
“It’s not that the board or I are against education,” Rooney said. “We’re not looking to undermine the schools, but at some point something has to give a little bit.”
You can read another recap of last night’s budget discussion — with more quotes and more numbers — in this article by the Metrowest Daily News.
Since Gobron says he’s leaving it up to the voters, why don’t we put it to another poll? Register your (unofficial) vote below. (Note: If you’re reading this via the My Southborough daily email, you’ll need to visit the blog to vote or see the results.)
While I agree that Dr. Gobron has done all he can to trim costs in the “paperclip” department he has not made a meaningful attempt to tame the 600 lb gorilla that drives our tax rates. School Labor Costs are roughly 1/2 of our total operating budget. The current proposed budget has an undisclosed amount allocated for raises next year.
If we were serious about providing a quality education we would hear the school committees, our elected representatives, talking about the necessity of freezing salaries next year to make sure we had sufficient resources to protect a quality education. We have not heard that.
Here is the latest update on Advisory Committee’s consideration of the Town budget. A new version of the spreadsheet is available now at southboroughadvisory.com and reflects action taken Monday night.
Advisory Committee process has been first to get a budget that fits within the tax cap and secondly, to get the tax increase down to 2%. Lastly it has had an objective, which it is still debating, about offering a zero tax increase alternative with less spending.
Monday night, as part of its 2% tax increase budget, Advisory voted to recommend that the K-8 school budget be $16.7 million, $145,259 less than the current requested amount from the School Committee, and voted to support the Selectmen’s budgets as recommended by the Board of Selectmen. On Warrant articles the Advisory Committee voted to recommend spending $620,000, compared to the Selectmen’s request for $811,000. The net result of this is that Advisory had developed a budget that is $117,000 below the tax cap and a two percent tax increase. No doubt there will be further changes before we get to Town Meeting.
The way this blog works, it may be supposed that because I am reporting on the above, I am in agreement with it, but, in fact, I am not. As anyone who chooses to watch the Committee on cable will see, I argued for more balanced reductions in municipal and school budgets. I did so because I believe that more balanced reductions are more likely to be persuasive to voters, and that we should not encourage behavior under which those who complain most skillfully are rewarded. I do not believe that either municipal or school budgets cannot be reduced below the current requests, but Advisory has accepted the Selectmen’s position on their budgets, a one-sided position I opposed. Now it appears, from the comments attributed to Dr. Gobron, the School Committee will contest the Advisory proposal, as it stands, on Town Meeting floor.
Also I feel strongly that, this year, voters should be presented with lower spending alternatives, with lower taxes. The committee has yet to decide on the latter. It appears that so called “step” salary increases, ones which are the result of longevity and perhaps performance remain part of the plans in all municipal and school budgets for next year. They are in the union as well as non-union plans. As I have written before here, I think that, at this time, this is wrong. The executive authorities, in this case Selectmen and School Committee, should bargain with the objective freezing all increases for two years, and then see where things stand. If they need to go to labor arbitration, then do so. If they lose, then we will deal with it, but we will have tried. However, our elected officials do not seem to have considered a broad based salary freeze in their negotiations. Unfortunately I think they will not do so while voters support tax increases. Although I have supported higher taxes and a broad range of services for decades in this Town, and I am not anti-tax, certainly not anti-union, there comes a point when the larger economic picture makes any further salary increases unwise. I think we are at that point, but I’m not succeeding yet in convincing people involved in the Town.
Lets get the teachers paying the same for health insurance as everyone else. See what that saves.
If you mean “everyone else” as the rest of the Town employees, then I’m afraid that change is already included in the figures. We incorporated those projected savings about 2 weeks ago.
To turn Mr. Gobron’s words around….”I truly believe that to add any further tax burden will negatively affect the quality of my family’s life.”
Thank you Lisa. Well put.
As I understand, the School Committee and the Teacher’s Union met and their contracts will be available publically on or about April 5th. I also understand that Bill Boland attended the negotiations. I think it is premature to suggest that Dr. Gobron has not attempted to manage the labor costs.
I did attend the School Committee’s informational meeting held last Thursday and was impressed with efforts that the school committee has taken over the last two years to manage the budget without compromising our educational standards. I do believe that Charles Gobron and our Southborough School Committee have put forward the best budget they can. I commend the efforts and I am hopeful that the Southborough Schools and Teacher Union will have come to a longer-term agreement around health care benefits and salary increases that will be in line with state benchmarks and will have merit with all parties.
John- I am not sure where the $145K will come from out of the school budget unless it is from our programming or personnel. This will need to be a debate at Town Meeting- the population that arrives to cast their vote will determine the outcome.
At this stage the salary conversations are belabored by confidentiality rules, but from public conversations with Dr. Gobron and Selectman Boland at the last Advisory meeting it was pretty clear that freezing of increases, step and otherwise, was not part of the proposed upcoming union deals. It is also not part of the salary plan for non union employees. While this wouldn’t lead me to question their hard work, I do think that it is too much of a “business as usual” starting point. I think that we should have been seeking a salary freeze, nominally planned for two years.
Note that I did not vote in favor of the $145K reduction from the request, not because I think we should spend more money, but because I thought, to meet that target, the reduced increases should be more balanced across more budgets. I don’t buy the claim that the Selectmen’s budget increases in every case are less deserving of reduction than the schools. Furthermore I think that Town Meeting is more likely to accept a conspicuously evenhanded approach in tough times.
As for the effects of reductions, they will probably be in staff reductions, unless they can stiffen their resolve on the union at this late hour, which I think is possibly unrealistic. I am not advocating that staff reductions should happen. I am not saying that there is “fat” so to speak. I simply believe that the priority now should be on spending less, and accepting the consequences across the board. I believe it is imprudent to have salary increases and tax increases every year, regardless of external economic circumstances, but that is what we have been doing.
The reality is that our public officials and administrators operate in a world where there is no need take the difficult decision of trying to freeze salaries because of the attitude that a 2.5% tax increase is a birthright. This is a perfectly rational set of expectations because Town Meeting goes along every year. Nothing will change until Town Meeting says NO.
The old Pogo saying “We have met the enemy and he is us” was never truer.
I think this is a good year to say NO. Town operating expenses, which are dominated by labor costs, have risen by 16% is the last 5 years. During the same time frame personal income in the State only rose 10% and has been stagnant for the past 3 years. Federal Employees are enduring a 2 year pay freeze. State workers are being furloughed, Social Security recipients have had their benefits frozen for the second year in a row. But never fear! No change in Southborough! It is tax increases, Step Raises, Lane Raises, Longevity Raises for all.
The healthiest thing we could do for our government is to say NO.
If the contracts (union or non-union) include pay raises for municipal and school budgets it is completely and utterly ludicrous in these economic times in conjunction with the condition of our town’s budget and while tax payers face substantial increases. It is irresponsible of our BOS to show, what I think, are poor leadership skills during these challenging fiscal times by not demanding lower spending and lower taxes.
The phrase stated by Al H. above ….”The current proposed budget has an undisclosed amount allocated for raises next year”, literally turns my stomach.
If I am helping to fund these raises as a taxpayer then I want some transparancy here.
This issue is so much ignored it is a joke. People are reluctant to talk about it because it is an uncomfortable issue; “the 600 lb gorilla that drives our taxes” as Al stated above.
Well, let’s invite the 600 lb. gorilla into the room. SOMEONE……discuss this issue with us. Someone, look us in the eye and tell us that our taxes are going up and that some of it is tied to raises for municipal and school contract (union and non union) budgets. Someone please tell me how you can reasonably explain and justify these raises when all over our country people are being laid off, having their salaries frozen, taking lower paying jobs and making hard choices within their own four walls? (did I not to mention rising gas and oil costs, rising food costs………….).
to Lisa: I concur with John Kendall…..”well put”.
to John Butler: you said, “I believe that more balanced reductions are more likely to be persuasive to voters, and that we should not encourage behavior under which those who complain most skillfully are rewarded” ………..I agree. In addition we should not encourage those who use scare tactics by claiming that our stellar schools will crumble or there will be a mass exodus to private schools.
I am not a hater. I am not unreasonable. I love our town, our school system and our teachers. I never regret moving here and if I had to do it all again, would do so in a heartbeat. I am, however, frustrated. I expected more leadership skills from our BOS given our current fiscal situation in this town, state and country which leads me to my final comment:
To BOS: Selectmen play an active and strong role in the financial management of any town. Any google sight, for heavens sake, spells it out perfectly……………
“A major role of the selectmen should be to coordinate the roles of all players in the financial management process and to promote a team approach for addressing the fiscal issues of the town. Selectmen should participate in the budget process, directly reviewing budget requests and having input at all levels of the process. They should provide leadership in the development of a capital improvement program and a risk management policy (i.e., insurance). Throughout the fiscal year, the selectmen (in conjunction with the finance committee), should monitor the financial performance of the town. Finally, selectmen should assume an active role in any issue or policy that has broad implications for the financial condition of the town, including such issues as tax classification, free cash policy, use of a stabilization fund, financial reporting and the audit process. ”
So BOS, in this current fiscal climate and all that comes with it (people are confused, angry, frustrated) I think it is disappointing that you are willing to propose a budget in excess of the cap and then let it roll into a vote only prolonging this atmosphere and really prolonging the inevitable. I pay attention and vote for my town’s elected officials because I look to them to be the leaders that they promised when running. I do not believe that letting departments come to the table in excess of the cap while we run an unsustainable town budget is the responsible thing to do. Not in these times.
How about the the pink elephant in the living room – unfunded employee pensions. How much is it? When will it be addressed? How will it be paid for?
When will we start comparing our edcuation system to world class standards vs. local MCAS scores?
The Selectmen are not proposing a budget in excess of the tax cap. Their proposed budget (latest Treasurer information) would increase taxes by 2.3% but is within the tax cap. It would increase municipal budgets by 3.2% and total municipal spending by 5.7% over last year, while decreasing K-8 school budget below last year by 0.9%. Essentially they get the increases on the municipal side by proposing cuts to the schools. If Town Meeting were to approve the Selectmen’s municipal request and the School Committee’s request, then the combined budget would be over the cap. This unbalanced recommendation represents a traditionally unrealistic approach, in that the schools and their advocates will not accept, nor should they accept, this, but it lets the Selectmen accurately claim that they are under the cap. Nevertheless, it is not very helpful.
It might be helpful to review how PROP 2.5 and the LEVY and the CAP work.
The LEVY is the total amount of money that is raised by the property tax to fund government exclusive of any money we raise to pay for debt.
The CAP is the total amount that the LEVY could increase with only the approval of Town Meeting. The LEVY cannot exceed the CAP. If spending and the associated LEVY exceeds the CAP then a ballot vote is required to raise the CAP. If passed the CAP is permanently increased if it failed then the LEVY and spending must be reduced. The CAP can be raised or lowered (underride) at any time by a vote of Town Meeting and the Voters there is no need to have a specific LEVY in mind.
Prop 2.5 is a law that governs rules for the CAP.
There is only a loose relationship between the Levy and the CAP. Each year, the CAP is permitted to increase by 2.5% + any new growth in the tax base (eg a new home in town) without any vote. If the LEVY is less than the CAP the CAP still increases by 2.5% + new growth.
In recent years our spending and associated LEVY has been less than the CAP but the CAP has continued to grow anyway, that is how we can be looking at tax increases in excess of 2.5% without a PROP 2.5 override.
Debt service is not part of the PROP 2.5 calculation it is excluded and a significant part of the substantial tax increases we have experienced in the last decade is due to the very large amount of debt we have taken on.
I was referriing to John Rooney’s post from March 10th………..”Given that we are about to impose a substantial tax increase, I am in favor of proposing a budget in excess of the cap so as to let all of the residents vote”.
The numbers, as you report, are not over the cap, but for me it is the willingness from BOS (or at least John Rooney) to allow the excess to come to the table in the first place. I disagree with the premise given our current situation and expected more
push back from leadership positions on several areas of the budget. Taxpayers deserve that much.
Wait a sec, let me make sure I understand this. In dire economic times, Gobron’s boss told him to trim the budget approximately 3%? And Gobron refused to do so?
In that case, Gobron should be unceremoniously fired. Can anybody explain to me why this has not happened already?
The Superintendent doesn’t report to the selectmen, and the selectmen don’t control the school budget. They can make requests, but it’s up to the school committee to approve the budget.
Ultimately, Town Meeting is the boss and voters get the final say.
Per Suzan’s explanation, the most important vote we have is for school committee membership. The school committe control 70% of the town budget.
For that reason you should pay attention to the school committee.
I’ve said it before, it is my opinion from observation of the SC in action, they rarely question the costs for programs or proposals. I’m sure they would dispute my contention; However, they can not dispute the fact that the budget increases every year. Teachers continue to get % increases. step and lane increases, stipends, etc. even during toigh economic times.i
Please advise the voters how much money does or will the town owe in unfended employee pensions?
I have never seen a number for that. It would not be uncommon in government settings for it not to be calculated, although, of course, it should be. The Town does not pay pensions directly, rather it does so indirectly through various State and county systems, depending upon the type of employee. Therefore the Town’s future liability may be somewhat masked by the obligations of these larger entities to which it has obligations.
Although it is a good topic for consideration, it is not a Town Meeting topic for April 11 and, unfortunately we have a lot of big items that need to be settled then, about which there remain widely divergent views.
Marnie, That is good what you said in your first paragraph. We will be able to see what the teahcers are making and what their benefits are costing us on April 5. Then we decide do we want to do battle with them (teachers and unioins) and fire one at a time until they figure out that theirr benefits and pay do not benefit us the tax payer any longer. If we are really concerned with education, and not day care of our children, we will choose to fire them. I just left an account, Tufts Vetrinary Clinic. What happended there with their unioinized custodians is this. Because there were more customdians than electricians and HVAC people, all union based, the custodians kept taking more of the raises and money available for those who take care of the school and grounds. They were making $24 and hour and the electricain was making $40. Most electricians in the private sector make $50-65 and hour and a custodian makes $10-15, Maybe $20 if they are a supervisor. But because of the unions it was reversed . So, they fired all the custodians and hired a private firm that does a better job and costs the school less money. And they out source their electirical work to a private electrical company. Now I am not saying we are there yet with our teachers, and I have kids in the schools, but teachers need to realize their unions are doing them no favors and not doing us the tax payers any favors either. The unions they work for (not us becasue we dont negotiate with them) have hit critical mass across the country and are bankrupting towns and municipalities. You know there is no law that staes we cant hire private teachers or part time teachers. We can keep what we deem are the best teachers, or can we? Even the union tells us we have to keep tenured, older, teachers… see there they go again. Hurting the younger, better, more energetic teachers as well as costing us the tax payer more money. Go to town meeting and say no to Gobron, the School Committes and the unioins. Draw a line in the sand. If I were the BOS that is what I would be saying.
Didn’t the school system trim their budget last year? Now they’re being asked to do it again? What is the bottom line dollar amount that the taxpayer would have to pay to NOT reduce the proposed school budget by $570K. The parents may not want to pay higher taxes but I have a feeling parents don’t want their kids to continue to lose educational resources in the public schools either.
In the bizarre world of public finance officials refer to a cut when their initial “wish list” budget proposal is reduced. In the current fiscal year our total K-8 budget is $19.72 million (including benefits and insurance). In the prior fiscal year that number was $19.23 million or a $500,000 increase (2.54%) not a cut. To be fair, there was a loss of some monies from the state which did impact programs in the current year. So, not only was there not a cut, we paid more, and received less service and served fewer children. Our K-8 populations have been declining since 2004.
I’m trying to keep things simply and brief: I want to know who much my taxes are going to increase from this year to next year. Advisory recommends a 2% increase, BOS a 2.3% and using the recommended budget numbers from School Committee (2.01% for K-8 & .55% for Regional) which comes to a total town tax rate increase to 2.4% we are looking at a minor difference. (I’m not going to debate Overlay usage now…both BOS and Advisory have different opinions) Without going into detail of who supports what on the Warrant Articles is comes down to this for the average house: +$159 Advisory; +$187 BOS; and with the schools staying at their recommend budget a +$194 increase over last year. (I received these numbers from Advisory..I hope they are right!) BOS wants the schools to cut another $570,000 for a difference of $7 per household…and Advisory for $35??? BOS seems to be leaning heavily on reductions on the school budget and not other town budgets. Sorry, I don’t see the logic….risking our property values and educational system for this amount of money. When I moved to town I didn’t look at how many police officers or firemen the town had…but I did research the schools very closely.
Yes, we are all in the same sandbox…schools and municipal departments need to work together…and as residents we care about all of our services. I know our School Committee has worked countless hours with Superintendent Gobron to come up with a budget. Remember WE elected them to represent us…and our children. For those of you that continually bash them…please come to a meeting…please contact them and tell them how you feel before NOW! I’m hoping the negotiations with the teachers are successful….I’ll wait until I see the final outcome before I pass judgement on that.
The most important issue here is for all residents to come to Town Meeting. I know scheduling one more ‘to-do’ on the calendar is never easy. I hope those of you with young children realize the importance of your attendance. Support of our educational system should be a priority.
I agree with you and John Butler that the so called Selectmens budget is too predatory on the schools and the burden is not properly shared. And I also agree with you that a quality school system is important to preserving our property values.
I could also be convinced to pay the additional $150 or $200 if I thought I was going to get more or better service for my money. But we will not, we will get less service and that is in part the source of my aggravation. That money is not going to pay for additional services it is going to pay for raises for public sector workers. In fact we are going to have to cut else where to pay for those raises as well. So do not be deceived in thinking that this money is going to provide a better education for our children, it is not.
Frankly I can afford the $150 or $200 but we have families in town who have not seen an increase in their Social Security last year nor this and there are others for whom this may be the straw that breaks the camels back. Those families exist in our community and we take an all too cavalier attitude toward forcing them to pay more.
Finally, we need to be serious about how hard the School Committees work. They meet once a month. Advisory meets 1 or 2 times a week during budget season from Jan to early April and the Selectmen do as well yet the School Committee is responsible for 70% of our spending.
It cannot be that the School committees meet and work informally as that would be a violation of the open meeting law. From everything that I observed in 10 years on public finance boards in town the Superintendent develops the budget with a little input from the School Committees and then the Committees review and rubber stamp the result. I chaired an advisory meeting where the budget was presented by 2 or 3 school committee members but the Superintendent could not make the meeting and none of the members could tell me what was in the budget or summarize it in any meaningful way. Sorry, but that dog wont hunt.
I am not a finance wizard, but how can a town be run properly without knowing the facts behind the dollars? I am reading we have union contracts coming up, salary increases proposed, etc. I assume every department has been asked to cut their budget and I would expect that every department would do their due diligence to do so. I did read that the schools budget is 67% of the total? Correct? Well wouldn’t the committees want to do a deep dive into this? Are the committees confident that they have reviewed the detail and can propose the best economical solution to the voters? So that we can make an informed decision? How do you know we will get less service? How do you know $150 to $200 would go to raises?
I also read that Fay and St.Marks DO NOT pay property taxes to the town? Is that true? How did they get that deal and how hard is the town fighting to get that changed?
You have lots of good questions. I will try to make a dent in them.
1. There are almost no budget cuts in the proposed budgets. A budget cut is when you are given less money this year than you had last year. Despite the histrionics budget cuts are as rare as hens teeth in our financial affairs. What there are is reductions to the initial wish list submissions.
2. Schools are roughly 2/3 of our budget. The Advisory committee does a deep dive but it is a meaningless exercise. State law gives the School Committees complete discretion over the use of those monies. The are free to move money from the paperclip account to salaries or vice versa. I believe that rather than a deep dive we need to focus on how much we spend and what that money produces.
3. Less service – We will be serving fewer children in our K-8 system. Our K-8 population has been declining since 2004. The best data I have seen is that this trend will continue for the remainder of the decade. No one is talking about adding new programs so fewer students=less service. Town Hall hours have been trimmed, each manager will has a list of about the impact of the current budget. That is less service.
4. My rough estimate is as follows:
The payroll we are responsible for is on the order of $25,000,000 (K-8 & Algonquin & Municipal) a 2% salary increase would be $500,000. There are about 3000 households in Southborough. At $150 per household that would be $450,000. Any way you cut it the vast majority of your tax increase will be used to pay for raises and increases in benefit costs.
5. Fay and St Marks do not pay property taxes. All not for profit entities in Mass are exempt from property tax by State Law. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a change on this one. Fay and St Marks have very powerful allies called Harvard, MIT, BC, BU, Churches, and Boy Scouts.
I spent 10 years on financial committees in town. I chaired the Capital Budget Committee and the Advisory Committee. I attended endless meeting often twice a week during budget season. I did the deep dives you suggested. I proposed many ways to save money and deliver better service. These changes were resisted at every turn. The reality is that there is no pressure to change and become more efficient because Town Meeting approves the status quo every year. (As is their democratic right). In the end I quit out of a mixture of frustration and disgust. Nothing will change until Town Meeting says NO.
Thanks Al. To your point on number 2, I agree the schools need to manage the budget they get wisely. I would assume they know their business best. It would be nice to know if the schools budget has to be cut by $570K, how does that cut affect their business. What departments/services/resources within the school system gets affected? For me if I was able to understand the impact, I could make an informed decision. I assume other voters would be able to make an informed decision also.
It seems that everyone wants to save money (including John Butler) until you really start talking about the schools. Then it seems that everyone has a “to hell with the other departments, don’t touch the schools” attitude. Any cuts should be equal, across the board….schools included. It’s the only fair and equitable solution right now.
I agree strongly with Mr. Kendall’s statement above. I would support any level of reduced spending increases, down to a level of no tax increase, if the cuts are applied across the board. Anyone who says they want to stop spending increases but then next says what budget must be increased, is not serious about getting anything done in the real world, in which each person has a different preference. This attitude will only produce divisions, and the endless spending increases. Therefore, I do not support any scheme, such as that promoted by the Board of Selectmen, that would increase municipal spending (their domain) by 5.7% while decreasing K-8 school spending by about 1%.
School supporters and all citizens should rally against any imbalanced plan and turn out to Town Meeting to defeat it. Those who want lower spending should support a no tax increase budget that, as Mr. Kendall suggests, impacts all groups equally, or they will never have the votes to prevail.
I saw this article online and thought it was very interesting. I guess Southborough isn’t the only town looking at the teachers contracts…..