FY17 Pioneer District Budget Hearing

Last night we heard. We heard mostly from dozens of school district employees that cutting seven classroom aids would be devastating to children and educational outcomes. Many of those attending were organized by school district leadership including a building principal or two and an administrator. This caused me to wonder, where lies the line before this sort of interest group organizing against the School Committee and Superintendent becomes insubordination?

Any District employee who is a resident of one of the four towns had a legitimate role to play, providing they disclosed their financial interest in the outcome, notwithstanding their employment. Others were putting their narrow interests ahead of the larger community’s. The sentiment was expressed that we are not valuing and respecting teachers. This attempt to lower budget growth in the face of 25% reduction in the number of students over the past seven years. is not disrespectful of educators. The incapacity to see the financial strain on the wider community is.

After a lot of comment, the Budget Committee Chair sought to hear from School Committee members and there were objections from the public, so I asked to hear from folks attending the hearing who don’t get a pay check from the school district. That got a few folks to make some good points on both sides of the issue and they asked some honest and good questions.

I was especially distressed that the long time Chair of the School Committee was not supporting our committee process, one in which she participated as ex officio. In fact, neither our elected representative School Committee Chair or Vice Chair supported the Budget Committee and Superintendent’s budget recommendation. In fact, the Vice Chair pulled a budget figure out of his hat. Ignoring our Sub Committee recommendation is a bad practice. It erodes participation in the process, especially the policy to refer important matters to a Sub Committee for recommendation.

I’ll be rethinking my commitment to the process and consider going right to the finale in the future.  This will make for a fewer nights out at meetings.  In the context of being so late to the process, one member told me this hearing reminded her of a small claims court collection proceeding where the defendant doesn’t show up and loses the judgement by default, and then shows up later at the subsequent collection proceeding to say they don’t owe the debt. Doesn’t work in a legal proceeding but seems to be at play here.

Those who supported the bigger number and believe that a 1.57% increase is a cut, the majority of the committee, will explain that the committee can’t later change the budget upward if it votes the lower budget number. That may be true of assessments to the towns but it is not true of the school budget. Was that the real point? If we were to get more local aid, the School Committee does not have to lower assessment to the towns, though it has been the past practice. What they are setting up is a run at our town treasuries.

Here is what I am going to do next: I will calculate the average wage increase to our school employees, which is comprised of both contract defined annual wage increases plus contract defined longevity based steps, (there is nothing performance based in the mix) and then apply the same percentage pay increase the school employees see every year, to all Warwick town employees in the requested FY17 Town of Warwick Budget. That number will be something like 4.5%. Doing so will give the taxpayers who agree that it is important to pay more and more for our schools every year, even as the number of students constantly declines, the chance to treat the rest of us equitably.

I figure that what’s good for the goose…

David Young, Warwick Town Coordinator and PVRSD School Committee Member

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