Saturday, March 15, 2008

Let the Spending Begin! Croydon passes all five school warrants

Let the Spending Begin! Croydon passes all five school warrants

by Jim Peschke

Today's afternoon town hall meeting had a healthy degree of dialogue over the five Croydon School District warrant articles. Taken together, these five articles are estimated to raise our taxes by 63 cents per $1,000.

Initial budget clarifications from the District were quite disturbing. The budget book contained three significant accounting errors, even though it was apparently computer-generated. These are the same people that want to spend over $1.2 million of our money.

Discussion formally reserved for Article 2 (the school budget) quickly centered around concerns regarding "special education". Several members of the audience raised objections over the amount of special ed spending, the rate of increase, and the questionable practice of raising taxes to squirrel away money incase some new undefined six-figure expenditures arise.

The answers from the front table were woefully unsatisfactory. Superintendent Mealey explained that a special ed student can cost anywhere between $100,000 and $280,000 per year. These astonishingly high figures drew little criticism. More upsetting to the audience were the large transportation costs associated with a single student, drawing several "I'm in the wrong business!" type comments.

After yielding my time to permit the special ed discussion to run its course, I proposed an alternate budget based on a $25,000 (1.96%) reduction in the board's budget. To reduce the peer pressure routinely brought against voters seeking fiscal responsibility, I also proposed that the vote be taken by secret ballot.

Responding to the inevitable question of where we might find this $25,000 cut, I listed three sources. I proposed eliminating the new principal position/stipend for $3,500, making the board members volunteers to save $1,500, and cutting the special-ed budget by $20,000.

Cutting the principal drew the ire of the teacher crowd, aided no doubt by an expectation as I had made this suggestion at a recent PTO meeting. Superintendent Mealey said we needed this because our SAU services would be cut after Sunapee's departure and that we needed to subsidize these services. Newport is adding 81.5% to our SAU fees and simultaneously cutting SAU services. Public education in a nutshell!

The secret ballot initiative received the necessary three signatures, and a secret ballot took place. During the vote, several of the education crowd whispered snide remarks about this being a waste of time. (I guess an extra 5 minutes is too much to ask when addressing $1.2 million).

The vote tally was 20 votes for, 28 votes against the reduced budget initiative. This seemed to be the closest vote, so perhaps the secret ballot helped some vote for it who might otherwise hesitate in an open vote.

After the defeat, the board's original budget passed on a yea/nay vote. Article 3 received much less attention.

Article 4, the appropriation of $20,000 more for the special-ed capital fund revitalized the earlier discussion about waste in special education. Residents not among the teacher crowd expressed strong resistance to this warrant article and the idea of putting tax dollars into a fund, hoping it won't get spent.

In spite of this vocal resistance, the issue passed, as did Article 5.

After the final vote, some parents complained of Newport students not being fed (or well fed) when short on their lunch money. No formal action was taken on this topic.

Even the most modest attempts at spending control lost the day to a contingent of public school employees. The most enlightening aspect of the meeting was the abusive manner in which school districts pour taxpayer dollars into the special-ed fund through any means possible. (Three separate techniques used in this meeting alone.)

Today our district voted for bloated administration, uncontrolled spending, and a black hole of taxpayer dollars in "special ed" funds with no clearly defined purpose. The district even refused to provide answers under direct questioning as to where this "special ed" money was going. (I thought Enron was out of business.)

It must be all "for the kids".

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