Tonight, the school board voted 6-2 to approve a final budget of $79.4 million for the 2010–2011 school year. The budget raises school real-estate taxes to 26.63 mills, an increase of 10.5 percent. Voting for the budget were Directors Birks, Cappucci, Ostergaard, Posti, Remely, and Rose. Voting against were Directors Fraasch and Stipanovich.
Those supporting the budget said it represented many hard decisions, all carefully considered. They emphasized that the district held the line on normal operating costs: the large increase, they offered, was the result of unavoidable pension costs and debt service on the $75-million bond for the high-school project.
Those opposing the budget argued that it was wrong for the board to tax its way out of a spending problem. They pointed out that this year’s cost increases were foreseeable, and yet the board did not adequately prepare for those increases in previous years. They also suggested that the economy has forced the community to tighten its belt, so why shouldn’t the school district tighten its belt, too? Why should the school district, they argued, be able to offload its financial problems when everybody else must make ends meet the hard way?
After this discussion, the vote was taken. The budget passed. Nobody seemed to feel good about it.
On a hopeful note, the board voted unanimously on a different motion, one to approve the formation of a “task force” to reduce operating costs. To make meaningful reductions, the logic goes, the board needs more time than the traditional budgeting process provides; the task force solves this problem by looking into the budget on an ongoing basis. When next year’s budget comes due, the board (one hopes) will finally have the options it needs to make those “hard decisions” we keep hearing about.
In the meantime, this task force represents the acid test for those school-board directors who talk about controlling costs but don’t do much cost-controlling. If they are serious about their commitment, they will give the task force what it needs to be effective – and then let it do its job.
The next few school board meetings are where the task force will be defined. They will determine whether the task force is real or not.
Let’s see what happens.
Labels: budget, economy, mt lebanon school district