, Derry, New Hampshire

July 11, 2013

Editorial: Mind your business

Derry News

---- — A close vote got a little closer Monday night after a recount of the Derry School District vote on a paraprofessional union contract.

But the end result was the same. Voters approved a three-year contract by a final three-vote margin.

After rejecting a proposed contract in March, some voters went back to the polls last month to consider a new proposal, some $27,000 less. The contract was approved in an abysmal turnout, 356-352.

Some thought that was too close to call and requested a recount. That’s fair enough. Recounts are available for good reason and voters deserve the right to call for a second tally.

But a couple of things about this situation are troubling.

First of all, just 3.5 percent of the town’s 20,202 registered voters took the time to cast ballots June 25. That number is an embarrassment and a true shame.

Derry has one of the state’s highest tax rates, due, in large part, to its school budget. That alone, plus the initial contract rejection, should have brought out the naysayers.

The paraprofessionals covered by this contract — educational assistants, special education assistants, kindergarten aides, and library, computer and reading assistants — are some of the hardest working and lowest paid school district employees. That fact should have brought out those who appreciate all they do for so little.

Also troubling is the fact that two town councilors spearheaded the recount petition effort. They are, of course, entitled to make the same request as any other registered voter. But it doesn’t smell just right.

Town Councilors Mark Osborne and Tom Cardon were elected on promises of fiscal responsibility and some serious belt-tightening. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that; goodness knows, Derry clearly needs some.

They have brought a new perspective to the council and have made the board more representative of the town’s population and diverse opinions. That’s a good thing.

If there’s one thing the seven-member council appears to agree on it’s that the School Board needs to be more fiscally responsible. Councilors hold themselves up as examples of such responsibility and that’s fair, too, to a large extent.

But leading the recount charge feels inappropriate, a grandstand move to say, “Hey, look at us, if the School Board won’t tighten spending, we’ll step in.”

The two councilors said they were speaking and acting for the original 352 voters who opposed the contract. They said they had heard from many residents who thought the results were just too close.

So, what happened that rendered those 352 voters silent and unable to get the 12 necessary signatures on a recount petition?

Voters bear the responsibility here — for getting off their duffs and spending a few minutes in a voting booth when their tax dollars are at stake, and for speaking up and taking action if they think the results deserve scrutiny.

They don’t need town councilors to do that for them.

The Town Council is right to practice better fiscal responsibility and to urge the School Board to do the same. But members shouldn’t swell up with authority and importance. Having two councilors leading this recount charge doesn’t feel quite right.

Their efforts would better serve the voters if they held joint budgeting sessions with the School Board, attended their budget workshops as residents and made helpful, reasonable suggestions about ways to trim a budget that’s balloon to the point of near bursting.

If any town councilor thinks he or she could do a better job of school district budgeting than the present School Board, then perhaps they ran for the wrong office.

There’s plenty of fixing to do on the town side of Derry business and the town would be better served if the Town Council stuck to that.