By Denise Lopez
I attended Tuesday’s zoom budget discussion and left frustrated and concerned. After over three hours, two of which were spent debating the use of the School Committee’s fund balance, there was clearly a disconnect. Education is important to all, however, the town has multiple entities to consider when putting a budget together. The town looking for alternatives to fund the school budget does NOT equal that the schools should not be fully funded. It means let’s work together. The town has always funded the schools recognizing the importance and now the schools can help support the town being the only entity with a surplus.
I’m an EGHS alum and active community member. I support the schools. I’ve worn multiple hats at Frenchtown, Eldredge and Cole as a volunteer and my husband was involved in EGEF. I’m a believer in education and funding our schools. For better or worse, I’ve sat in multiple committee meetings and budget cycles so I have a sense of the history. The tone set by the School Committee that if we don’t fund the schools they will fail has to stop.
Below is a summary of an email I sent to the School Committee on Wednesday. As of Thursday, when this letter was submitted, I’d only heard back from member Kevin Murphy. Compromise is not easy, but balance is necessary.
I attended last night’s almost three-hour budget discussion and wanted to provide some feedback. As a taxpayer and parent, it was very disappointing to have spent almost two hours of the discussion listening to the push and pull of whether the School Committee should need to use their fund balance to supplement the roughly $600,000 needed to balance your budget.
The Town Council is basically saying they are not questioning your budget line by line which to me seems generous. In the nine years I’ve been following the budget cycle the biggest question every year is where does all the money that gets put into the school system go. To hear last night that the district spent almost $400K on a cleaning contract that if it had been done differently could have been reimbursed is troubling. The council is saying you do not have to cut back on programming. They are simply and rightfully asking you to use the fund balance.
This year in particular, the School Committee seems to be exerting a certain amount of control and it’s not just with the budget cycle. When groups they want to entertain request a discussion, there is a dialogue. This year when a group of concerned parents wanted a discussion, meetings weren’t granted because of their approach; therefore their voices weren’t heard. Who represents the students’ best interests is my question every year because at times it seems no one does. A group stood up and, because it was too confrontational, was not respected. I’m not saying they were right in their approach but as an elected governing body you need to hear all voices.
The community is watching and there needs to be a balance, a compromise and the TC offered you a fair one. The schools are not looked upon as desirable because of the money put into them. It’s the community that’s helped supplement the needs and who will stand by their children to do what the school doesn’t. Our town is also desirable because of proximity to the highway and services provided at all levels of the town. The threat can’t continue to be if you don’t fund the schools the town will fall apart because it won’t.
I ask that you simply take a minute to really think about what they’re asking and if you balance your expectations you may see it wasn’t that big of an ask after all. When the dust settles after this year, and hopefully a more “normal” year next, use it as an opportunity to dig into the budget and actual expenses. It’s time. Maybe then we can help to build a better future for our schools and community.
I encourage all to listen to the recording of the meeting to understand the context of my comments and learn more for themselves. (Editor’s Note: You can watch the June 1, 2021, meeting on this Facebook recording HERE. The Town Council meets virtually on Monday, June 7, and the budget is the only item on the agenda. Find a link to that agenda, including the Zoom link, HERE.)
Denise Lopez lives in East Greenwich.