For months, area schools have been trying to make the hard decisions. This year is a year of economic hardship Ė for both districts and for taxpayers Ė and school boards and administrators are being forced to take a closer look at the funds they need and how they are going to get them.
A lot of districts in Chenango County have been hit hard this year. State aid is down, as a result of drastic cuts to the state budget and a faltering economy, and costs continue to rise. While this situation would generally require schools to pass the cost increase along to district residents, many donít want to do so with so many families suffering as a result of the economy.
So what is there to do? Many schools have pared down their budgets little by little, eliminating staff through retirement or layoffs, decreasing funding to some programs and activities, taking another look at bus routes to determine if there could be a more economical way to go. And while those changes may help, most will still be required to raise taxes in order to get the funding they need to continue to operate.
Given the stress of this yearís financial picture, itís no surprise that some taxpayers are upset about another year of tax increases, but I think the real issue is how the information is presented to the public, rather than what the increase turns out to be.
After watching the way the budgets have been presented, it seems that getting taxpayers to agree to pass a budget is just as much about the process a district goes through as it is about the amount of money involved. Some districts seem to understand that. They do everything possible to get the public involved in the process. They begin early, ask for input from the public, discuss the alternatives, and explain why they chose to make the decision they made when the budget is finally presented.
Other districts take a different approach. From the outside, it seems like an us versus them attitude. Some districts seem to avoid getting the community involved, fail to answer questions and present the budget saying this is the way itís got to be.
Given the two options, I know which one I would feel more compelled to support.
I have sat through many budget meetings, and I know how hard districts work to eliminate costs and keep the tax increase to a minimum, but in times like these, I think it is more important than ever to show transparency when it comes to how our tax dollars are being spent. Each school sends out budget information, but how clear and concise that information is varies from district to district, and if taxpayers donít understand where that money is going, theyíre going to be less likely to pass the budget.
The responsibility isnít entirely on the district, as always, itís on the voters too. Itís our duty to be informed voters. If you have a question, call the district and get more information. Itís your right to know.