Letter: Board not interested in saving money

To the editor,

I must take exception to the recent Citizens News editorial titled “Turnout shows no need for referendum.” The CN claims our Board of Education’s reasoning is sound; they wish to save money. I submit, saving money is the last thing on our Board of Education’s mind.

What’s important to the board is getting their budget passed on the first attempt. The best way for them to achieve this is by using the town meeting format which effectively disenfranchises many voters. Consider this — potential voters who may not be able to vote at a town meeting are those who work second shift, families with child or elder care responsibilities, seniors who can’t drive after dark, the infirm who can’t stand in long lines, and others. The board members know if they can stack the room with union members and others who benefit from increased school spending, and if they can eliminate those voters who might be opposed to their relentless annual budget increases, they have a better chance of getting their budget passed.

Taxpayers should recall that last year the budget was cut, (if I recall correctly), four times before it passed. At the budget presentation, Mayor Chatfield and First Selectman Smith both spoke separately they thought the budget was too high, and each asked that it be cut. Just for the asking, the board accommodated both and made small cuts. After the budget then failed at the first referendum, the board made additional cuts, and when it failed again, they made more cuts. Last year, after presenting their usual and customary “bare bones budget,” and after cutting said budget four times, they still ended up with a $250,000 surplus. But instead of refunding this money to the towns as has been done in the past, they now want to keep the town’s refund and place it in a new capital account to be used for pet projects, about which I assume, taxpayers will have no say.

Taxpayers should note the board lards its budget with items that shouldn’t be there to begin with; items that are designed to be removed should the budget not pass initially. If there is no pushback, that’s more free taxpayer money to spend, and next year we’ll repeat the process.

I have made this point in the past, but it bears repeating. Of all the tax dollars Region16 collects from the state and the towns of Beacon Falls and Prospect, approximately 80 percent of it goes towards teachers and staff salary and benefits — 80 percent. Now no one I know is against teachers or education, but we believe our school district must learn to do more with less as all of us have had to do.

Finally, comparing the referendum for security improvements to the $40 million annual budget is apples and oranges. Even if one ignores the fact that one is 20 times larger than the other, the taxpayers were generally ambivalent about this spending. Why? Few were motivated to oppose it because it was supposedly to protect our children, and everyone wants to protect children; and few were motivated to support it, because informed voters know that after $2 million is spent, it will do absolutely nothing to prevent another Sandy Hook.

During the security enhancement presentation, each speaker started their pitch by saying we know this won’t prevent another attack, but here’s our plan anyway. After the security spending passed at referendum, I spoke to one board member and informed that person I also didn’t think this spending would do anything to help prevent another attack. The board member agreed with me and said, “but we had to do something.”     

Ed Groth

Beacon Falls

Editor’s note: The 2012-13 school budget had a surplus of $744,191. Out of that money, the $500,000 that was projected to be returned to the towns will be returned and $244,191 is sought to be appropriated into a capital non-recurring account.