By Tim Tenhave
I write to encourage the voters to support Article 6 of the School District Warrant. This article seeks to remove the School Budget Committee. Here are a few concerns with the Committee:
- Their process is redundant with that of the School Board, which means time spent by the administration supporting their needs when there are important issues facing our schools that need attention.
- The Budget Committee can only change the bottom line of the budget and not any particular line item. The voters have the same power at the Deliberative Session each year.
- The Budget Committee process extends the budget process causing the School Board to work on the budget in December when most of the voters are distracted by holiday events.
- The Budget Committee creates a budget but then does not have to work within that budget. They go away after budget season.
- There is a cost to support the Budget Committee. The cost is in tax dollars for supplies, books, video, secretarial services, utilities, staff time, etc.
- Since the Budget Committee came into being for the school only, they have not made any real difference in the budget that went to the voters. They did add dollars in a couple of years and removed dollars in a couple as well with the last two years making no changes at all.
- The Budget Committee is an elected position but often there are not enough people running for the position. This year four of the six open seats have no one running for them. It would appear the many of our neighbors do not see the value in participating on the committee.
- Lastly, the Budget Committee really masks the body that should be presenting the budget to the voters. The School Board makes the policy decisions and the real budget decisions. They should be up front defending and presenting the budget as they have to live with the consequences alongside the Voters.
Here are a few things that will happen when the Budget Committee goes away:
- The School budget process will happen in January when the holidays are over and there is more time for the voters and School Board to be involved. More time will allow the voters to participate. It will allow time for the Press to report on the progress. It will allow for the open process to be extended beyond a couple of weeks so there is time for voters to have an influence on the outcome.
- The public hearing for the budget will happen between the voters and the School Board before the budget is final and presented to the Deliberative Session. At that meeting, voters can go meet with the School Board and actually have individual line items in the budget changed. This happens now with the Town Council with recent examples for us to see. It cannot happen with the Budget Committee.
- The time spent by the School Board and the School Administration supporting the Budget Committee can now be used dealing with the pressing issues of education.
Some people have expressed concern that the Committee’s oversight will be lost and the School Board will have too much power. We have seen that not to be the case though. The Town Council functions without a budget committee and as recently as last year the voters went to the Deliberative Session and the poles and changed the direction of the budget.
The budget will be finalized in the middle of February before the next candidates can sign up to run for office. Every year some of those candidates will be current Board members seeking re-election. If the School Board budget is really not what the voters want, some of the voters will seek to take their seats on the board away. They will have the time to sign up to do that after the budget is finalized. Some will simply not vote for those seeking re-election in April.
In the end, at the Deliberative Session and the ballot box, the voters will have the final say on the budget. It is time to make the process better and vote yes on Article 6.
(Tim Tenhave is a Merrimack resident and the author of this petitioned warrant article.)