To the Editor:
The in Tiverton over the Budget Committee’s proposal versus the Nelson/TCC budget proposal has been framed mostly in terms of school supporters versus school opponents. While I believe that there are people in town who would like to “stick it” to the schools, I prefer to frame the discussion in terms of long-term planning versus short term thinking. The Budget Committee proposes a vision that benefits the future of the entire town, while Nelson and the TCC propose a plan that serves the immediate needs of the few.
It’s worth summarizing the main elements of each budget. The elected Budget Committee proposes to increase school spending by 3.6 percent, the bottom line appropriation that the town is obligated to fund; raise municipal spending by 1.6 percent; and raise the tax levy by 2.6 percent. The Nelson/TCC proposal increases the budget by 1.5 percent, cutting nearly $600,000 from the budget committee recommendation that provides for fixed cost increases in special education and benefits; it increases municipal spending by 4.6 percent, nearly three times the Budget Committee proposal; and it increases the tax levy by 1.1 percent. This is a smaller amount than the Budget Committee proposal, but it does this by withdrawing $193,000 from the town’s general fund, and by projecting $200,000 in revenue from unidentified sources.
Let’s look the schools, or more broadly the value of schools to a community’s economy. A 2010 article in the Wall Street Journal makes clear the relationship between quality public schools and property values: “When housing markets go south, areas with exceptional schools tend to hold their value better than the market overall." And according to a 2011 Time “Moneyland” article, “A look at six months of foreclosure data shows that as the quality of a public school district goes up, the incidence of foreclosure goes down.” Conversely, foreclosures rise when the quality of public schools goes down. With the housing market only beginning to recover, drastic funding cuts to our schools would damage their reputation and could cripple the recovery and growth of the town’s residential tax base.
Tiverton schools have made great strides recently. In 2012, more than 200 Tiverton elementary and middle school students received the highest score on their NECAP exam. In addition, more than 80 high school students received top scores in science, reading, math, and writing, including several perfect scores. Over the past four years, Tiverton students increased their reading scores by 19 percent and their math scores by 8 percent, among the highest gains in Rhode Island. These accomplishments were led by teachers who have not received a raise during the same time period. To maintain this momentum, and its long term economic benefits, the schools must be properly funded.
Of great concern in the Nelson/TCC budget is the $393,000 in non-revenue related and unidentified income. The Nelson/TCC budget withdraws $193,000 from the town’s savings account, which could have a negative effect on the town’s bond rating, potentially raising the debt service on the new community library and limiting the ability of the town to borrow in case of an emergency that would ordinarily be covered by the surplus. Another $200,000 of revenue in the budget is identified as “natural levy growth and unallocated surpluses.” This represents wishful thinking rather than reality and is spending money the town simply does not have. With these two actions—essentially breaking open the town’s piggy bank and swiping its credit card—the TCC/Nelson budget increases the possibility of further long-term indebtedness. What the average taxpayer gains in tax savings in the slightly smaller levy is about the amount of money to buy a Big Mac twice a month or a paperback book once a month. Is it really worth the risk?
The budget committee did an admirable job of balancing all of the town’s needs, present and future, while keeping the tax rate as low as possible. What the town needs is long-term vision rather than short-term money-shuffling. I urge you to vote for the Budget Committee proposal, option number one on your ballot.
I also urge everyone to get out and vote. The future of Tiverton is at stake.