My budget recommendation
I urge Jaffrey-Rindge voters to support the proposed 2014-15 District school operating budget of $26,019,042, a $790, 551 increase, or 3.13 percent, over this year’s budget. However, they should reject Warrant Article 3, a proposed new contract agreement with the Jaffrey-Rindge Education Association; Article 7, a revolving fund for extended day program; Article 10, funding for a school resource officer; and Article 11, a revolving fund for an ice hockey team.
Increases in the operating budget are high, but they reflect state and federal mandates for special education, a need for classroom maintenance, and ongoing purchases for technology, textbooks and professional development costs.
The board members, superintendent and assistant superintendent of schools, and all four dedicated principals, have worked hard to develop a budget providing a fine education for children. As Rindge’s budget advisor to the Board, I found nothing educationally unsound in the budget or outlandish in cost, sufficient enough to recommend budget rejection. This does not mean I supported all items completely. I opposed amounts set aside for profession development, funding level for field trips, and the gifted/talented program.
Enrollment in the district reached 1,743 students in 2006 and declined to 1,515 in 2013. The board should look at future staff reductions. Transitioning to a seven-period day at Conant High School should lead to that.
More funding from both the state and federal government is needed for special education. The cost of a single out-of-district placement for one student can approach $300,000. This is a medical issue and not an educational one.
The argument for the proposed new teachers’ contract is unconvincing. Teachers are being offered an average 2.26 percent wage increase, which is double the rate of inflation, according to measures of inflation used by the Commerce Department and the Federal Reserve Board. The price index for personal consumption expenditures is below 1 percent and the core inflation rate is 1.1 percent.
Social Security recipients received a 1.5 percent increase. Increasing local taxes to pay for a generous salary increase beyond that of the cost of living paces an unfair burden on the poor, elderly on fixed incomes and unemployed. Higher taxation causes people to move or lose their homes.
I reject the argument that wages should be increased as a reward for teacher’s “hard work” reflected in rising test scores. There is nothing in the new contract connecting test scores to salary increases. If scores declined, would the board propose decreasing salaries? Unlike businesses where bonuses are given for increased revenue, teachers are paid by taxation.
Additionally, the average compensation increase for teachers is, actually, more than 2.26 percent because the 7 percent health insurance cost increase is being paid, mostly (80 percent), by the district. A significant wage increase and higher health insurance payments for teachers is not justified by current economic conditions.
Another argument for compensation increases is that the district is in “competition” for teachers. Not an iota of evidence was presented that the district, the state, or the nation is experiencing a teacher shortage. Not all teachers retire at the same time. Like zombies, teacher shortages do not exist. I heard fear of teacher shortages since the 1960s, and they never happened.
Rejection of Articles 7 and 11, extended-day program and establishing an ice hockey team is recommended despite assurances that these programs are “revenue neutral” and no burden to taxpayers. That changes in the future because it is hard to defund a program once established. A built-in lobby exists for an extended after-school program consisting of parents who want after-school day care, recreation departments, and people working in the program.
Article 11, which calls for the creation of an ice hockey program, has potential to expand its costs. Conant’s principal expressed doubts that a booster club could by itself finance a program and about transportation costs. I agree with him.
Adding a school resource officer for $80,000 is not justified because the level of violence in the nation is declining. All five major cities have experienced significant declines in their homicide rates. New York and Chicago are at their lowest in 50 years. There were 9.3 homicides per 100,000 nationwide in 1992 and 4.8 per 100,000 in 2010. The board is fully finding improved building safety features and the lack of an SRO has had no negative effects this year.
Eventually, the state Legislature should examine new formulas and sources of funding for education in order to alleviate the burden on local property owners.
Rick Sirvint lives in Rindge.