Town and School Board Disconnect
Earlier tonight I popped into the Norwich School Board meeting where deliberations of the budget began. I was about 90 minutes late and assumed I had missed it entirely… I didn’t leave for nearly 2 hours.
The main things I learned were as follows:
- Not one person – literally – from our pretty packed Selectboard Meeting last night was present at the School Board Meeting tonight. Both were dealing with the budget.
- Not one person – literally – at the School Board Meeting tonight had attended the Selectboard Meeting last night.
- There is, at least on this one occasion (which is one occasion too many in my book) zero crossover between the two boards and meetings.
- Going forward we must have a liaison between the two. Perhaps a position in and of itself that is assigned to attend both meetings.
I would have thought that perhaps up to half of the people at the Selectboard meeting on Wednesday night who were advocating strongly for a lower budget (and yes, often questioning the school budget) would have shown up to the actual school budget meeting 24 hours later. Instead, from what I could tell, the people who showed up at the School Board meeting were there to protest nearly any cuts that were taking place (specifically 2 FTE teachers) and keep the spending at higher levels because they “moved here only for the school system, just like nearly everyone else” they spoke to.
In Selectboard meetings, we hear frustrations about “transient families” who move here only for the schools and then take off once the kids graduate. Some of the residents who have been here for 30+ years and even multiple generations do not agree that this focus on the best school system is necessarily a good use of taxpayer money. Approximately 22% of households, according to one School Board member, have a child in the school system… 78% do not. Yet we are all paying. One other member argued that in all likelihood most of the 78% had children in the school system in the past so they would not be concerned by this… but I have to say that what we hear across Church Street every couple of weeks says that they are extraordinarily concerned.
I don’t have the answers yet, but at least once a year these two boards should meet together in public (perhaps the Town Meeting every March accomplishes that, but… is it too late by then to make any real change? Someone with more experience can answer that). In addition, perhaps most importantly, there must be an elected town official, appointed volunteer or town employee responsible for attending both.
In conclusion, I actually felt that both budgets were pretty responsible. Our Town Budget is increasing by less than 1%, and same with the school budget. Unfortunately the State of Vermont is not covering the same amount it did last year and that alone will in all likelihood lead to the highest tax increase we’ve seen in years, per one of the School Board members last night. While I think we need to sharpen our pencils this coming year further on how we spend money in the Town government, worrying about a $200 budget item moving to $250 – which happened more than once – is not going to make up for the millions that the State isn’t shipping our way. We need to step back and look at the full picture, on a multi-year basis – and not be overly concerned about the desk we purchase for the Town Clerk’s office this coming spring. We have immense challenges ahead as a Town… as a State… and obviously as a country.
Do better schools create value for home owners regardless if they have kids in school? Is it a diminishing returns where school only needs to be “good enough”?