June 15, 2017
This week’s Superintendent’s Corner is a guest column written by Michele Crane, the Chair of the Gateway Regional School Committee.
As the chair of the Gateway Regional School Committee, I am deeply disappointed about the recent rejection of our proposed budget for FY ’18. After dozens of people put in hundreds of hours on this essential document, it’s hard to imagine why half of our member towns voted it down. I want to make clear that when the school committee presents the towns with budget numbers for town meeting warrants it is a serious offer, it is the offer we feel confident in and it’s what we need for our kids to get through the next school year. It’s not a joke or a game or a “maybe.” When our proposed budget is rejected--and this year it appears to have been rejected with a “political” strategy in mind--it’s a real blow to the residents of our towns and the children who live here. It’s a blow to the school committee whose members are elected by voters to do this work. We are the committee with the power to set the budget. We hold twice monthly meetings which are posted legally, we take minutes and we have a specific agenda. We also need a quorum before we debate and vote on an issue. The school committee is an official legislative body, NOT an ad-hoc committee.
I’m not sure why I even have to make the following statement, but the budget that the school committee creates is for ALL of our children. The children who live in our six towns. They could be our own kids, our grandchildren, the children of our neighbors. The money we spend on education is used right here at home, for our own kids. The students you encourage on the playing field, the young musicians you listen to on stage, the student actors in a play and the ones working hard in the classroom. They are not imaginary children, they are real children who need a real education which costs money to provide. Again, this is not a joke or a mechanism for playing politics.
We live in an economically depressed area with few opportunities to increase business and a very small margin for raising taxes. So, that presents challenges for funding just about everything. But it also brings us challenging children. We have kids at Gateway who need emotional support just to get through the day. We have students with extreme developmental disabilities. We have students who are gifted and highly motivated. We have students in the middle. We have students who show up at school with an empty stomach and with inappropriate clothing. We have students who have never seen a dentist. The school district is expected to get ALL of these kids ready to learn, to reach unrealistic benchmarks required by the state and we are expected to do it on the cheap. How sad that some of our residents feel education is not valuable enough to at least accept and move forward a budget that has been seriously considered and planned by administrators, staff and the representatives you elected.
As I have said many times in the past, the school committee starts discussing the budget for the next school year in the fall of the current one. We have intense budget sessions in the winter and we invite residents and town officials to ask questions and contribute to the discussion. Rarely do we have anyone visit us at our meetings to make suggestions or learn about how we form the budget. Year after year our required public hearing on the budget held in March is attended by less than 20 residents or officials. But when we get to the spring and town meetings begin, some finance committees recommend rejection of the budget...after not saying anything in the months leading up to budget creation. This is a very upsetting pattern I’ve witnessed for the past 11 years I have been a part of the school committee budget process. Only if a particular town has an increase do the officials speak out. If there’s a decrease, we don’t hear anything. Because we are in this together and each town’s assessment is proportioned based on student population, we can’t cut the budget for one town without making everyone suffer. We cannot and will not cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from a carefully crafted budget just to make one town out of six happy. It’s not a good thing for the students. And that’s why we are here talking about this. We have children who live in our towns who need to be educated. Educating the future voters of our towns is a big priority. If you agree, please reach out to your school committee reps with questions and concerns. Please attend town meetings to support the budget vote. Please attend a school committee meeting so you can see how hard we work to make decisions that are good for our kids. In the coming weeks we will be presenting a new budget to the towns. It will be the best budget we can offer considering the circumstances, but it won’t come close to covering everything the students need and it will never ever come close to what we’d really like to offer. What a shame that this lovely community with such fine school facilities and great staff can only offer the very least of what’s possible to our wonderful local kids.
Michele Crane, Chair
Gateway Regional School Committee