November 2, 2009
“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” This quote from John Foster Dulles is appropriate as the state continues to cut services and aid, the district studies the pros and cons of consolidating our elementary schools, and we determine the best way to deal with further cuts in state aid to Gateway recently announced by the Governor. While many people are upset that the district is once again looking at elementary school consolidation, I believe the difference this time is that the school committee established the Elementary Advisory Committee, and put into place a process to take the most in-depth look at this issue to date, so that an informed decision may be made. In the past, this issue has always arisen due to budgetary constraints; the major change this year is the relationship of consolidation to student services and educational delivery.
While I do not know what the final outcome will be, I’ll repeat my belief that this process was necessary to fully explore the potential for elementary school consolidation. Whatever the final outcome is, this should settle the question of consolidation for some time leaving us to deal with the perennial problem of continuing decreases in state aid to education (especially for rural, regional school districts). As you will all be aware by the time you read this, the state has once again elected to break its promise to fully fund regional transportation by cutting our already reduced reimbursement another 44% (to an estimated 29% reimbursement). At the same time, we are losing funding for Early Childhood Programs, support of health and nursing staff, and reimbursement for extraordinary special education costs. Our towns once again face a further reduction in out-of-town vocational transportation reimbursement (down to 15%) and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program that was enacted to ensure that the state paid its share of taxes owed on state owned property to cities and towns. Yet I fail to see in any of these reductions any forgiveness of mandates, any options to be creative on the local level or any consideration given to meeting existing program needs before enacting new programs, legislation or regulations (consider the funding of expanded learning time for a handful of schools rather than the decades old formula for funding regional transportation).
I can say that the district’s dealings with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and our Senators and Representatives—especially after reviewing the Governor’s reductions to our district and local towns—lends particular credence to George Washington’s feeling towards Government. “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” I can’t help but think back on the difficulty of getting answers out of these bureaucracies; I think about them reneging on promises made by past administrations and legislators; I review the multiple schemes to save money dreamed up by the state while at the same time remembering the enforcement tools that these same governmental branches use to ensure timely answers from the people, the full and total collection of taxes owed and the unwillingness to allow for flexibility in difficult times. I am reminded that “Our government . . . teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.” (Louis D. Brandeis)
While I hope that we’ll eventually get answers from the state, and believe that we’ll survive this latest round of cuts without having to cut services, I’m very concerned about the potential reductions in state aid for fiscal years 2011 and 2012. Whether from the district’s perspective or the towns, the fact that the state has used up the vast majority of their reserves and federal stimulus money, coupled with no up tick in the collection of state revenue, bodes ill for the financial situations throughout the district. With budgets just barely supporting services and little desire to raise local taxes, we’ll all have to work closely together to ensure that neither the towns nor schools reach the point of no return.