[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
To the Editor:
I attended last night’s Advisory Committee meeting. The contrasts were stark. The first budget review I watched was the Recreation Commission. They are struggling with reduced program fees that will probably mean that for the first time in several years they will not be self sufficient. One of the charges they are dealing with is the $15,000 utility charge they are paying for the South Union School (otherwise known as the Money Pit). I will come back to this number in a minute.
Next came the biggest budget in our system: the K-8 schools. The budget had just been handed out (late as usual, a violation of our bylaws) so there was little detailed examination. There was some discussion about the impact of the teachers contracts. The School Administration now believes that the average raise will be about 4.5%. They are no longer representing the 1-2% number that was always a fiction. They denied that there were 7% raises even though the publicly available data, sourced from the Superintendents number shows a decade of 7% raises.
There were several impassioned statements from Advisory members about the need to reign in our labor costs in the next contract. Regrettably, it is clear that the Advisory Committee and the School Administration are not even speaking the same language. The concept of cost controls and the damage that a decade of 7% raises has done to our ability to fund public education is unrecognized by our School Administration. Frankly, the Advisory Committee would have been just as effective if it whispered in Mongolian at a distance of 100 yards.
Finally, there was almost no discussion of three versus four schools. Despite that acknowledgement that our school population may be down by 40 to 80 students next year (the number is legitimately in flux at this time of year). We will continue to operate four schools for the foreseeable future. That can appears to have been kicked down the road yet again.
There was some acknowledgement that the savings of closing a school might have a $150K impact on the school budget (that is real money in my book when Advisory rakes other departments over the coals for the cost of paperclips). However, the real savings occur in two different areas. If we can consolidate municipal operations into the closed school, we no longer have to fund the operation of three rotting hulks (South Union, Fayville, and Cordaville). The Rec department can keep its $15,000 and use it to provide services rather than buy fuel oil.
Finally, if we sell off the three buildings, the town stands to receive several million dollars. Those funds can be used to help fund our teachers contracts since it is clear that there will be no change in the rates of increase in the foreseeable future.
None of this will happen of course. Hard decisions are going to be avoided like the plague again. So we will get the default, taxpayers should expect a 4-5% increase this year because it is the easy thing to do.