Today’s Eagle Tribune carries this story: “Timberlane Superintendent Criticizes Budget Committee Member: Woman blames Timberlane Budget for Town Tax Hike.”
In this article our Superintendent criticizes me for:
1) Addressing the Sandown Board of Selectmen before the budget is final;
“As we speak, it’s still a work in progress,” Metzler said. “What one budget committee member is doing is inappropriate, inaccurate and irresponsible. When you step outside of that process, you complicate work and delay progress.”
2) Representing the school budget committee when the chair of the budget committee should be its sole spokesperson;
“When a board elects a chair, the chair is the spokesperson,” Metzler said. “Individuals who put their own spin on things to the public isn’t helpful to the process.”
3) reporting that the district was responsible for the town’s tax hike.
“There were two things that drove tax rates everywhere, not just at Timberlane,” Metzler said. “Retirement and health care. Those were unfunded mandates we had to adjust into our budget. That couldn’t be any more clear, especially to someone on the Budget Committee.”
I’ll deal with these “criticisms” in order. #1: As an elected representative to my community, I can address the BOS any time I wish and in fact I have a duty to keep my constituents informed. Everything the budget committee does is public knowledge. At the time of my address to the BOS, the Budcom had exactly two meetings left to finalize the budget and an informal assertion from Dr. Metzler that another $100k would be the last cut in the budget. I hardly think I alerted the public too soon. If anything, maybe I’ve now shamed Dr. Metzler into bringing some more substantive cuts to the table. That is certainly what Sandown residents would like to see as they groan under property taxes so substantial they worry that their houses will be unsellable.
#2: A committee chairman is not the boss of his fellow committee members nor is he the spokesperson for individual members. He is the spokesperson for the entire board AS A BOARD. The suggestion that the chair should be addressing my constituency is absurd. I’m certainly not going to be gagged so the district can be in full control of its messaging. The spin starts there, I can assure you.
#3 There is no question that the 2013-2014 school budget is the cause of the vast majority of Sandown’s tax increase this year. Dr. Metzler as much as admits much of the school budget increase last year was due to teacher’s retirement and benefits, something that can be controlled by cutting teaching staff in proportion to student enrollment decreases – and by negotiating more reasonable contracts with the teachers’ union – two things all within his authority last year.
And as a general aside, I would like my readers to know that accusations of inaccuracies without substantiation are an intellectually dishonest rhetorical device used way too frequently by this administration to discredit a message they don’t like. I stand by my presentation to the Sandown BOS on Dec. 2. It did include, however, one slide that needed updating. The statistics on that one slide were correct for draft two of the budget but by then draft three was out and I neglected to update that one slide. At the next BOS meeting, I corrected that small error; namely, that if we carry a $2 million surplus into the 2014-2015 budget, then the proposed budget will be 7.8% higher than what we expended in this current budget year. The number was previously 9%. Both are quite horrible. [The final budget as of Dec. 12 is at an estimated 7.2% assuming a $2 million surplus. Updated 12/17/13]
And as for last year, I feel I should apologize to the people of Sandown for not sounding the alarm then. It was my first year on a committee with material of staggering complexity. I was the sole vote on the committee against the budget, but I did not understand at the time the tax impact it would have. Now I know my way around the budget and the process much better. I understand the consequences of increases that initially appear benign, and I won’t be silenced by criticism, ridicule or outright disrespect. I work for the interests of residents of Sandown, taxpayers and parents of students, guided by my own conscience. The district wants a team player. It’s not me. Not this year. Not with this budget to date. Without Cathy Gorman, the other Sandown rep on the committee, it would be a very lonely battle indeed.
The article can be found here: http://www.eagletribune.com/latestnews/x601933353/Timberlane-superintendent-criticizes-budget-committee-member
Thank you to the reporter, Alex Lippa, for a balanced piece.