School budget increase is irresponsible
To the editor:
As your state senator and someone who cares deeply about the issue of education and our tax rate in Derry, I feel it is important for me to share my thoughts with the citizens of Derry regarding what transpired at our school board’s deliberative session on Feb. 2 and what it potentially means for all us going forward.
I have supported the Derry school system and School Board for almost 40 years as a taxpayer, legislator and father who sent his children to Derry public schools. I have advocated for the construction of West Running Brook School, Barka Elementary School and the elimination of all the portable classrooms. I wrote the new educational funding formula that saved Derry from losing $6.4 million in 2011. I advocated for many years to qualify our Regional Career and Technical Education Center, located at Pinkerton Academy, for state funding and subsequently successfully sponsored the funding of $7.8 million in the last state capital budget. I am the co-sponsor of a proposed educational scholarship to provide tuition assistance to qualified New Hampshire students who attend any in-state college or university. I believe strongly that the success of our state depends on having a highly-trained and educated population. So clearly when it comes to supporting our children and their education, I am all in.
In the past, I have also supported most of our proposed school budgets but the one that has just been proposed for 2013-2014 can only be described with one word: irresponsible. I use such a strong word because, if passed, the budget will potentially increase the school portion of our property tax bills by $2.97 per $1,000 at the same time we are experiencing a continuing precipitous decline in our school population.
I believe our School Board must accept responsibility for such an irresponsible decision. You don’t have to take my word for it, numbers from our state Department of Education bear this out.
The Derry cost per pupil from 2002 to 2012 has increased 116 percent from $5,720 to $12,400. However, during this same period, the CPI (Consumer Price Index) increased only 30 percent. This means the Derry School Board out spent the cost of living by 86 percent. Furthermore, the school population has decreased from 6,882 children in 2002 to 5,651 in 2012 | a loss of 1,231 students or almost 18 percent. During that same time period, the funding we received from the state has increased from $27.6 million to $33.3 million or 20 percent. Every other adjacent community has seen a decrease in funding, except Manchester, and they received only 8 percent more.
I find it irrational that the Derry School Board has increased spending by 116 percent while losing 18 percent of its students and receiving 20 percent more in state funding. Yet in the deliberative session, three School Board members voted with approximately 40 teachers to add an additional $800,000 dollars to the proposed budget.
The total school appropriation for the current year is $79.8 million. The proposed recommended total budget appropriation is $81.1 million for an increase of $1.3 million. Following the vote on Feb. 2, add an additional $800,000 dollars for an increase over last year of $2.1 million and we are left with a total operating budget of $81.9 million if Warrant Articles 2 and 3 pass. To make matters worse, the default budget that also passed is almost identical to the proposed budget which gives voters no real option to stop this increased spending.
The estimated local taxes to be raised this current school year were $38.1 million. The estimate for the ensuing year is $44.2 million. Now add another $800,000. The potential impact on the Derry taxes to be raised is an increase of $6.9 million. Based on the town assessed value from 2012, the school portion of next year’s tax bill will potentially increase by $2.97 dollars per $1,000. Our current tax rate is $30.48 per $1,000. With this school budget for the 2013- 2014 school year, it will potentially increase to $33.45 which could give Derry the distinction of having the highest tax rate in New Hampshire.
Here’s the bottom line: Less than 100 citizens of Derry attended the deliberative session on Feb. 2 to vote on an almost $82 million dollar budget. Voter inattention, and a process that is often poorly understood, will now result in our citizens paying for a significant tax increase this fall.
We have a great community. We have wonderful citizens but we cannot survive as a thriving successful community if our tax burden forces those very citizens, who have made Derry great, to leave because it is no longer affordable for them. We must restore the balance between wants and needs and be mindful of the affordability of our actions — that begins and ends with responsible budgeting.
State Senator Jim Rausch