Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Know the facts before voting March 11

In this Argus Champion
article, SAU 43 Superintendent Bill Mealey serves as cheerleader for the March 11th budget vote. While there is no explicit statement of position, the article leaves little to the imagination.

Strikingly, the "80 percent committed to contractual obligations" is hardly given a passing thought. This is how the education establishment likes it. If voters gazed into the waste embodied in teacher contracts, health insurance, and other annual throwaways, they would reject the budget regardless of how frugal the remaining 20% might be.

Before accepting the sincerity of Mealey's invitation to the public, consider how a resident proposing a $1 million budget cut was received by the Superintendent at Newport's budget meeting.

If Mealey wants voters to be informed, perhaps voters would do well to consider how much could be saved with frugal open-shop non-tenured teacher contracts that reward results instead of birthdays.

Croydon voters be sure to tell our neighbors to the south to reject said budget. As the cost of sending our children to Newport Schools will increase our taxes at the end our current contract with Newport Schools. Our schools have a spending problem not a funding problem. Newport continues to have a decline in enrollment yet the cost of educating our children is out pacing the rate of inflation. This has to do with salaries far out pacing the rate of inflation and school employees refusing to take a larger responsibility for paying for their own benefits as those of us in the private sector have had to do over the past decade.

Know the facts before voting March 11

Bill Mealey
SAU 43 Superintendent

It certainly is the "Information Age." We have so much information to read, give and explore through many different sources. In the school business at this time of year, voters are given even more information so they can make an informed decision about the budget.

Everyone wants a fair budget that meets the needs of the students and results in the least tax impact for the voters. For school board members, administrators and staff, the process began last September when the guidelines for the budget process were developed. Then the administrators and staff went to work to examine the "must haves" and the "nice to haves" were discussed. A first draft of the budget was constructed and given to the SAU for further examination. The superintendent and business administrator questioned items, and made adjustments to the building budgets according to the guidelines set forth. The school boards scrutinized the budget along the way and were responsible for presenting the budget to the voters.

The budgets in SAU 43 are transparent. It is my belief that nothing should be hidden and that all items can be justified. The public is invited to all budget review sessions to ask questions and express alternative ideas. The budget hearing is designed to give voters an opportunity to participate in discussions about any part of the budget prior to a board vote. The deliberative session gives voters another opportunity to express their thoughts prior to putting the budget to a community vote. (This year in all SB2 New Hampshire school districts, the vote will take place Tuesday, March 11.) Personally, I am always hopeful that more people will take an interest in the process and participate more fully.

My urge to all of you is to ask questions, read the annual reports and get the facts before voting.

In most school budgets you will see 80 percent is committed to contractual obligations - salaries, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, professional development, building maintenance and obligations by law to our special education programs (in-district, early childhood support, and out-of district). Many cost items (debt service for a building program and teachers contractual obligations) were approved by voters in past year voting, and have a multiple year obligation, just like our home mortgage payments.

Some programs need further explanation, and early childhood support is one of them. This is a program that serves students ages 3 to 5, before they enter kindergarten. It is mandated by law. If a parent of a young child (or a doctor) observes that a child is having difficulties learning to walk/talk/think, or if the child has a medical issue or brain-based disability, the child can be referred to the early childhood support program for screening/evaluation. If the child is found eligible for services, the team works to help the child learn. At kindergarten age, the child is transitioned to school. There is a misconception that this is an "optional" program. It is not. Newport's program serves students from outside of the district. The communities then pay tuition for their resident children to Newport so they can receive service. The tuition paid by other districts can be found in the "revenue" section of the budget.

The revenue section of the budget is important. This section of the budget tells you what revenue there is to offset certain programs. Early childhood support is only one. You can see federal grant monies offset positions and programs. Monies from the state for a building bond can be found in the revenue section. The Croydon School District has an "area agreement" to send their students from grades 4 to 12 to the Newport School District, and the tuition payment can be found in the revenue.

The bottom line is your tax rate is calculated by taking your expenditures and subtracting your revenue. What is left is the amount taxed. , In the end, the districts are looking for the voters to support what is believed to be an effective learning program and a safe environment for all of our students. Since such a large part of the budget is already dedicated to staff and facilities, if the school board needs to cut, the only place to find monies is in staff and programs (examples are course options, athletics, etc.).

The voting date is March 11. If you need more information, please be sure you have a copy of the annual report from your district. In Sunapee and Croydon, the annual reports are mailed to every community household. In Newport, the annual reports are distributed at the deliberative session.

If you did not receive a report, you may obtain one from the SAU 43 office, borrow one from the Richards Free Library, or go to any of the school libraries. Call 863-3540 if you have questions.

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