ENOUGH is ENOUGH
CITIZENS FOR FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY
January 20, 2009
Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee
5 School Street
Wenham, MA 01984
To: Laurie Wilson, Chair, Hamilton-Wenham Regional School Committee
The time to act is now!
As taxpayers of Hamilton and Wenham concerned with the current dire fiscal reality, we ask that the Regional School Committee suspend its traditional budgeting process and engage in emergency planning to preserve educational excellence for our children. The school committee and administration cannot live in denial of the pending budget crunch, nor “pass the buck” to the selectmen or to the taxpayers. While other towns like Ipswich, Beverly, Salem, Peabody and Manchester-Essex are publicly engaging in emergency preparation to meet cutbacks in local and state funding, the Hamilton-Wenham School Committee operates in a “business as usual” fashion. The time has come for the School Committee members to decide whether their true priority is the children of our towns or maintaining a school structure that expects the taxpayers to fund a ten percent increase every school year.
The School Committee and SOS mantra of “its just a cup of coffee”, resulting in ten overrides that has burdened our homeowners with real estate taxes that are the highest in the area, has come to an end. School committee members who state, “we create the budget, then let the voters decide” are failing to take responsibility for fiscal restraint that the taxpayers rightfully deserve. If this out-of-touch attitude prevails, we are destined for a crisis situation later this year. The time to act is NOW. You cannot continue with the strategy of talk and no action nor deferring any serious look at cuts until sometime in the future.
The members of Enough is Enough expect the School Committee and school administration to step up to the challenge. It’s easy to run schools with overrides every year. The proof of whether we have the right people in charge is how they act to preserve quality education in times of budgetary cuts. EIE members are not experts in running schools; this is your responsibility. This is why we called for an operational audit, something that is dismissed by school committee members and SOS as unnecessary or too expensive. The School Committee’s recent challenge to well-meaning citizens to come up with cost savings is a smug and elitist response to the people who pay the taxes that fund the schools and not helpful in finding solutions. You need to throw out your four pages of rules that are designed to stifle a real two-way conversation. EIE welcomes an open and respectful dialogue where all ideas are considered fully and are not dismissed out of hand. With that being said, we offer an approach that should be used forthwith:
1) Take a look at all non-state mandated spending starting with those that have the least impact on educational services. Some examples; There are no mandates for Assistant Principals at schools, no mandates for highly paid Athletic Directors and Assistant Athletic Directors. There are no mandates for secretarial staff. Contracting out for maintenance is also allowed. EIE has a long list of ideas to further this discussion.
2) No real fiscal reform can be achieved without dealing with the largest budgetary item, namely salaries. A discussion must start with the unions for ten percent pay cuts in order to preserve teacher jobs. For administrators, the pay cuts should be fifteen percent and include elimination of positions not required by state mandate. Our citizens have supported our administrators, secretaries, teachers and maintenance workers for years with regular raises from overrides. It is time that they step up and work for the benefit of our children and share in the pain across the board to give taxpayers relief. Many young families are struggling to meet mortgage payments. Some are facing foreclosure. Many retired taxpayers are experiencing income that is half of what they were making before they retired. With fixed incomes, they cannot cope with increasing taxes.
3) There needs to be less talk and more action to control the cost of employee benefits. Five-dollar health insurance co-pays do not exist anywhere else but in municipal health plans. If GIC is not agreed upon by the unions, then a negotiation should begin to go to $25 co-pays, cut medication coverage and insist that the plan have parity with those offered to non-government workers.
The goal of the school committee, school administration, selectmen, FinCom, SOS and EIE should be one and the same, namely the best educational system we can afford given the fiscal realities of a rapidly deteriorating economy. This means that we need to make difficult decisions, before inaction results in teacher cuts and disintegration of our children’s excellent record of academic achievement.
Enough is Enough requests a written response to this letter by February 15, 2009.
Enough is Enough
Robert F. Sica Edwin Howard
339 Essex St, Hamilton
34 Hamilton Ave, Hamilton Bruce Wadleigh
Elizabeth Dunbar George LaMontagne