Last night I sat through 3 hours of a school board meeting--the one where the superintendent asked the board to tax to the legal ceiling allowed without a referendum in order to maintain operations. Even by doing so, our school district will run a projected $250,000 deficit. And ours is a district with increasing enrollment that has a long history of being fiscally conservative.
The old people were out in droves to protest "tax to the max." The board and the superintendent sat in very hot seats. Our PTA treasurer spoke first during the open floor to support the motion, noting that they've lowered the mill rate all but 4 times in the last 16 years and what the school was asking for was not anything extra, just essential. Immediately an old man sitting across from us stood and began verbally attacking her. The board president ran referee the whole night, reminding people to address the board, not the citizenry sitting beside them. It struck me that the violent outbursts during the health care debates weren't so far from what I witnessed. Personal attacks were made by the opposition, reasoned and researched arguments were made by the supporters (which did include some elderly folks--one gentleman made a stunning argument on behalf of education and not cutting programming). I was disappointed by the ignorance displayed by my compatriots--some accusing the superintendent of horrible things, some arguing to cut jobs that don't even exist, one man calling the district's four-year-old preschool "glorified babysitting." "Because the moms are at work!" this Neanderthal yelled. At that point I may have turned around and hollered back "And their dads are working too!"
It disappointed me that more parents weren't present to support the motion--it's this generation's children, after all, most affected by these budget decisions.
I thought about what percent of our income Mr. D and I pay in federal taxes (considerable) and the amount the school gets for abiding by federal laws (2%). I thought about the other programs that we've contributed to our whole working lives--like Social Security. I thought about how I'll probably never get my share of that. I thought about how this older generation digging in their heels (mostly--though some of them value education and spoke out to support the motion, and some young parents spoke out against the motion because they don't want their taxes raised) lives on fixed incomes and feels they cannot pay any more. And I thought how as a mom I'm not asking for more, just enough so that my kids can get a running start at a life in the shadow of a federal and state budget deficit the previous generations have been responsible for creating.
My friend whispered that she'd voluntarily pay these people's property taxes if they'd pay her Social Security and Medicaid. I stifled a giggle. She'd come out ahead on that bargain.
I spoke my piece, recognizing the shoestring budget the board has worked with and noting how the Happyland PTA spends money on essentials like construction paper and Xerox paper and wood chips for the playground. We don't use our money for frills--the classrooms have 25 students and annual supply budgets of $250. It's not enough. They certainly cannot cut any more. Our class sizes are as full as they can be and the current budget allows for nothing extra.
It was a long meeting while the board members listened and then discussed what lie before them. I empathized with their position. They don't want to raise taxes, but they have a duty to these kids and our community. They recognize the tight times citizens face, but they also see how we're not getting money from the state and federal governments to hold up this end of the agreement: a free public education for our kids. Ultimately that funding will have to come from the local coffers because the other two won't ante up.
They voted to pass the motion 4-3. Many angry people and some happy people stood up and left. I sat and watched the rest of the meeting from my spot in the front row. The board thanked me for sitting through until the end. I replied that the end was the best part--all the good news--the announcement of this year's valedictorians and salutatorian was at the end of the meeting. I thanked them for their courage and their service.
And reader? I am exhausted today.