Community Comment on the Referendums

To The Readers:

The current budget referendum has been causing quite a stir in town.  The town is divided into two camps, those opposed to the decrease and those in approval of the decrease.  The money in question, 1.1 million transportation savings, from early school closings.

The first budget meeting was presented with a preliminary petition request, from a bipartisan group, asking for level funding to both the Town and School budgets. The request, made in the midst of the Covid Pandemic, with businesses shut down, people out of work and schools using Distance Learning as a means to continue teaching students, made the need for level funding even more apparent.  To date, with the stay at home order lifted and in the beginnings of Phase III, there is still not much relief in sight. Some businesses are open at half capacity, some businesses have permanently closed, some businesses are struggling to keep their heads above water with less than half of the usual daily goods sold.  Some people have been trying to make ends meet with smaller paychecks due to shortened work hours, part time work schedules instead of full time, while others are looking for work because their employer permanently shut down.  The hope of receiving a raise this year or next year, looking slim to impossible.

The level funding request was voted down at the first budget meeting, with Stephanie Canter, School Committee Chair, asking the town to still supply the school’s increase request, so it could be placed in the school’s surplus fund for uncertain times.  The second night of the town meeting, the Town Manager suggested a money swap that would help the school receive their wanted increase without incurring a tax increase on the taxpayers.  The plan was for the School Dept to give their 1.1 million savings to the Town and the Town would then give the savings back to the School Dept as their requested increase. Any increase amount given to the school is added to their budget expense total, as it is considered extra money needed to cover the budget expenses.  This bump up in the expense total when multiplied by the percentage ask (which can be between 1% – 4%) gives the school a bigger dollar amount in their increase ask the following budget year.

 Whether you vote for or against the referendum, the School Dept keeps the 1.1 million.  However, by “Approving the Reduction” the Schools will have level funding this year (no tax increase) and it will decrease next year’s tax increase by a small percentage.  It is a tool for the taxpayer’s to use to help get the School Budget back to level funding over the course of a few years, that will be manageable to work with so it will not cause program cuts.  The School Dept is stating that it will cause program cuts but the Superintendent stated at the last Council and Committee work session that it will only affect the new programs she was hoping to start up.  With the economy, in town, the way it is, starting something new and not knowing if it will be continually funded because of economic distress, is not wise.  In uncertain times, it would make more sense to stick with the basics until everyone in town is back on firm ground. Then start introducing a new concept that will be confidently and continuously funded,

Our Student numbers have been steadily decreasing over the past 19 years, yet the School Budget keeps steadily increasing. Of course, there is inflation, but the cost per pupil to attend an SK School is well above inflation rates.  It should not cost the family farm to educate a child. 

Ten years ago, there were approximately 345 Seniors at SKHS, this year’s Senior class is at 233.  The incoming Kindergartener’s are at 130, at present, there is a chance the number may reach 140 by the start of the school year.  The School Department uses the previous years bottom line expense total to build the next year’s budget, which was acceptable when the numbers were high.  As Dorald Beasley pointed out at the budget meeting, the Town Charter describes two means of calculating the School Budget, one is the present way of banking off of the previous years total or using the actual student numbers to calculate a budget.  Dorald suggests, with numbers decreasing annually, to use the student ratio model. I have to agree, it would make for a more realistic budget and help us to be able to afford the new school building the School Department is striving for. 

By also “Approving the Reduction” to the Town Budget, you will be voting for level funding (no tax increase) in this year’s budget.  Level funding is needed for this budget for the same reasons listed above regarding businesses and job conditions.

I hope you will support “Approving the Reduction” on both budgets for the sake of the Town, as a whole. 

 Dee Shea

SK Taxpayer

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