I want to encourage every civic minded resident to attend the Portsmouth Town Council Hearing with the Portsmouth School Committee on Tuesday, June 15th; our collective voices need be heard. As Louis Brandeis said, "In the frank expression in conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom in governmental action."
The Facts: #1) The Portsmouth School Committee has brought forth to the Town Council their FY2011 budget; it asks for an increase of 2.51% from last year. Were the Council to approve that budget, the levy or the Town's taxable obligation needs to increase greater than the 2.51% to cover a loss in State Education Aid – this places the increase at 4.5% or at the cap. #2) On June 11th the House and Senate passed a new funding formula for schools beginning on the FY2012 budget that calls for Portsmouth to lose $2.07 million in State Education Aid over ten years or $207,000 annually. #3) On June 2nd, the Town Council tentatively voted 5-2 to “Level Fund” the school system, a functional cut of $1.2 million from the Schools budget. #4) A final hearing on the Schools budget is scheduled for Tuesday, June 15th and a subsequent Financial Town Meeting with public comment will follow in late June.
The Portsmouth School Committee is funded by State Charter and has the obligation to uphold the State’s basic education plan, and the Council acts as the Schools taxing authority. RI Law provides recourse to the Schools to go to the Courts should it feel it cannot execute the State’s basic education plan with the funds provided. Portsmouth knows this process all too well. “Level Funding” will bring us right back to the Courts and a reasonable man would assume with the same outcome. The School Committee has closed the Elmhurst School, laid-off teachers, has cut its non-contractual budget to the bone, and our teachers will not receive a pay raise (irrespective of Step increases). The School budget increases 2.51%; in line with most other Town Departments. I believe the budget is reasonable. More importantly, I believe we need to face the larger issue of the loss of $2.1 million in future years today. I call for a one-time tax increase of $120 to bridge the present problem with the clear understanding that the School Committee work with administration, its unions, and in operations to find the $210,000 annually, if not more, immediately for FY 2012.
My fear on Tuesday is that our leaders will stand on politics and abdicate their leadership to the Courts. As someone said at the SOS Information Night, "$120 is one person's dinner out and another's weekly groceries." I understand that, but decimating our schools would also impact our home values – 1% devaluation on an average home is $3,500 or 29 years of $120 increases. Not to speak of the detrimental impact on our children and our community. We need true leadership in the present so that the structural deficit can be addressed long term.
Signed: David D. Croston
P.S. In Saturdays NDN paper Lisa Dickmann in a Letter to the Editor asked where I have been these past years: Ms. Dickmann my wife and I underwrite the Middle School fundraiser for late buses and extra curriculars; I donated over 300 hours of project management to the Gym; I served as the School Committee’s Vice Chairman, Chairman of the Gym Committee and its fundraising committee; I care enough to step forward – may I ask the question, and you?