Letter: Taxpayers Have Control Over Their Bills, and the Schools Have Options
Tiverton resident Justin Katz writes a letter to the editor.
Audacity is the only word for Tiverton Schools Superintendent William Rearick's declaration, during a School Committee meeting Tuesday, that "over the past ten years… our budget has decreased from 65% of the total spending of the town to 60%." He went on to list positions and offerings that have been cut, presumably to deal with the lost revenue.
The reality is that, from 2001/2002 to 2011/2012, the schools' budget grew from $17.7 million to $26.9 million. That's a 52% increase. The budget for which Rearick is advocating would bring the number up to $27.9 million next year, for a total increase of 58%. (None of this includes the so-called "restricted funds" received from the state and federal governments.)
The only reason Rearick is not still claiming 65% of the total town budget is that over $3 million has been added to annual debt payments. What did the town buy with the borrowed money? Three brand new schools.
Take new debt out of the picture, and the percentages haven't changed. Better yet, treat new schools as, well, spending on schools, and the department's percentage has gone up.
Meanwhile, enrollment has fallen from 2,219 in 2001/2002 to a projected 1,899 next year. That's more than a 14% drop. All told, the bill for educating each student will have jumped 84%.
Once again, those calling for larger increases are emphasizing how small the savings would be, but how massive the damage would be, from Dave Nelson's 1.1% budget. Voters should be suspicious of both parts of the claim.
First, the supposedly small tax increases never expire, and they compound year after year. Tiverton's total tax levy has doubled in the past decade.
Second, if the School Committee and administration are running their near-$30 million operation such that a too-small increase after years of gorging can end education as we know it, their management must come into serious question. At the very least, they should be as aggressive lobbying the state to increase aid and eliminate mandates as they are when they threaten locals with closed schools and lost programs.
Rearick repeatedly offered those two as the only options if his side loses the vote, but over the course of Tuesday's meeting, a third possibility emerged. The teachers' contract is up for renegotiation, and the budget assumes the "status quo." That is, pay rates won't go up, but step and longevity raises continue. Healthcare costs will follow their percentage.
But there is no "maintenance of effort" rule for pay, and Rhode Island courts have affirmed that program cuts don't have to precede decreases in expired contracts.
In other words, if the people of Tiverton decide that it's time to let their incomes catch up with their tax bills, the school committee, administrators, and employees will have several choices. And if they choose to harm the students, after describing in such detail the damage that would be done, the next choice will be the voters'.