To the Editor:
Last March, 1,716 Goffstown residents voted on the school budget on election day. They broke nearly three to one in favor of the lower budget choice, as presented by the Budget Committee. Last Saturday, 189 residents voted to prevent a tax-neutral school budget from appearing on the ballot this March. This means that the residents who would have supported the Budget Committee’s recommendation (1,200 last year) will have to settle instead for the default budget, which will still increase taxes. The newly-modified proposed budget is about one million more than the default, and it includes no concessions at all from the original request from the School Board. For reference, last year’s proposed budget, which survived a similar attempted increase, was about a million less than the default.
Some have pointed out that most of the increases to the school budget over the years have been due to contracts. This is true: our teachers’ salaries have increased by an average of over 7% each year under the current contract, accounting for much of the recent budget increases. Incidentally, are you and all your co-workers making one third more than you were four years ago as a result of guaranteed raises that are not tied to performance? For that matter, how many outstanding teachers do we have who should have been given more, if only administrators were permitted to reward them?
But regardless, the default budget, by definition, includes contractual increases, so no teachers should lose their jobs as a result of its adoption. If the town were to approve the proposed budget instead, not only would taxes increase by hundreds for most, but it would send the message that our teacher contract (which expires this year) is acceptable as it is, and that we can accommodate more of the same in the next contract. The School Board, which negotiates the contract, has demonstrated itself to be categorically opposed to the very notion of reductions. What incentive will they have to provide the town a leaner contract if their request is granted to the dollar?
Consider for a moment that those who were hoping for tax relief are already disappointed: there is no budget even being considered that would lower taxes. I believe that the tax-neutral goal of the Budget Committee represented the most obvious, non-arbitrary compromise between all competing interests this year. By embracing this goal, the committee was even able to add substantial amounts back into the budgets. Also, consider the stark contrast between the budget proceedings on the town side and on the school side. The Board of Selectmen and town department heads were up to the challenge of doing more with less, and as a result they actually exceeded the Budget Committee’s target. For the School Board and its supporters, however, compromise was not on the agenda. For these reasons, I urge all to vote “No” on the school budget article on March 8th.