I voted to reject the proposed school budget and I would like to take this opportunity to explain why I stand by my decision. Last week, my colleague, Jon Wilson, wrote an op-ed which explained the mechanics of the rate increase well. Critical to his explanation is that presented with the information that we were faced with a penalty should we approve the proposed budget, the city of Manchester would pay $462,000 to the state and receive no benefit (hence the term penalty). While Jon argued that he was confident that the penalty was going to be changed, I felt it was important to vote based on the facts available, not what I wanted them to be.
There is an important aspect to the vote that Jon neglected to mention: that we could vote for a smaller budget amount and should the penalty be reduced, the town could vote for a supplementary amount. It is important for me to emphasize that I was not voting to cut programs, I was interested in not forcing Manchester residents to pay an unnecessary penalty. The onus would have been on the administration to determine how to achieve the reduced budget should it have passed.
One version of events painted a dilemma between cuts in programs versus higher taxes. Oh were it so simple. Our school needs critical introspection. Is it possible to deliver the programs we have and more given the same budget? There was tremendous concern by the staff about losing a technology specialist. Could we reduce the number of people in media, technology and library and keep those that are better poised to assist in technology? These are not questions for the board to answer. They are questions for the professionals to answer. The board proposes how much money the school should spend and if that is accepted by the town, then the administration determines how best to allocate those funds. The decision how to allocate funds is not easy and it stands to reason that an educator will opt for more programs rather than fewer. In the interest of being light hearted about a tense situation, Jon Wilson suggested choosing between programs is akin to asking which limb should be cut off.Pick your metaphor however you prefer, but the board has an obligation to the tax payers to propose budgets that are not wasteful. It stands to reason that the burden of choosing what programs to cut would fall on the administration.
The point that other area schools are not losing population at nearly the rate MEMS is was addressed recently in the ad-hoc committee. The evidence is pretty clear: people are still moving to our area but not choosing MEMS. Jon and I disagree as to the reasons. In a sadly ironic choice of words, he refers to the programs at MEMS as "exemplary" which can mean either best in class or serving as punishment. I do not think either definition holds as the former is hard to prove while the latter is a bit harsh. In either case, a proper evaluation is warranted.
Jon's admittedly incomplete analysis of why MEMS student numbers are declining relative to other towns exemplifies our different approaches. Jon immediately points out that independent schools have dedicated personnel to promote their respective schools. While it is accurate that other schools in our vicinity make an effort at promotion (public and independent) it is belittling to the families and the efforts of the other schools to suggest that people are not making rational choices after doing their proper due diligence. I welcome those families that could have chosen MEMS but decided on an alternative (either by moving to the surrounding
towns or sending their children to independent schools) to let the board know how and why they arrived at their decisions. My suspicion is that more than marketing was involved.
Finally, the board is also exploring the idea of becoming a non-operating district with the understanding that an independent school, similar in model to BBA, would take MEMS' place — ensuring a local school for all residents, and for those residents that choose to go elsewhere, a tuition would be paid to the receiving school. In this scenario, the new MEMS would be forced to confront the issue of lost students head on rather than dragging the problem out for 7 years.
I believed at the time of the budget vote and continue to believe that MEMS should not cut programs for the sake of cutting. I believe that ineffective programs must be changed or jettisoned to make room for more effective programs. It is appearing more likely that the penalty will be reduced or eliminated, but voting based on an assumption or hope is irresponsible. I believe MEMS can have a bright future, but to get there we have to be open-minded as a community, ask some difficult questions, and arrive at creative solutions. The first step of the scientific process is to identify the problem: our student population is dropping. Given BBA's numbers are flat and the surrounding area's student population is roughly flat in aggregate suggests the problem is with
MEMS. This is what needs to be discussed.
Stephen Murphy is a Manchester School Director.
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are flat and the surrounding area's student population is roughly flat in aggregate suggests the problem is with
MEMS. This is what needs to be discussed.
Stephen Murphy – School Director term expires 2017
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Why I Voted Against the Proposed Budget.docx