We as a community have come accustom over the years to a faction of citizens fighting for additional funding for education. The goal is always expressed as providing the best for the children of Coventry. Education of our children should be a high priority after all it looks like we are going to leave them with a massive debt to pay off and the burden to maintain our expectations for Social Security benefits.
The question of equality in funding and curriculum is always part of the discussion, as well it should be. It is a valid question across our State and nation. It is a well accepted fact that all children do not have the same opportunities in life, some face greater challenges and must overcome more obstacles than others. Some cities and towns face greater obstacles in providing education that is a sad part of life. As parents and indeed as a community we must face challenges everyday balancing needs and wants with the ability to provide the best solutions to difficult decisions.
Over the years we have heard the term “bare bones budget” or “excessive spending” used to criticize a spending level favored by some in our community. Too often it is without a clear understanding of not only the budget but the priorities of the budget and the budget process. The Town budget including the Board of Education can not deliver all things to all people that is the harsh reality.
We can not ignore our children and we can not ignore our neighbors. Some of us have an almost unlimited ability to pay taxes and others are living on the edge, struggling everyday to make ends meet. While at Town meetings in the past it has been said, “If you can’t afford to pay the taxes then move”. Have we no compassion, are we so self centered as a community dripping in greed and desire for all that we can get that we should treat our neighbors like this? Are we a community working together to build the best life we can for ourselves, our children and our neighbors? We should be, we can be and we must be more compassionate and understanding of the needs and abilities of our neighbors.
Recently it was discovered in budget discussions that the proposed teacher insurance benefit expense was an inflated number. Yes, and it was over expressed in last year’s budget, a budget that some called “bare bones” apparently they didn’t have all the facts. The budgeting for the item was discovered because of Mr. Mark Malcolm a member of the Board of Education and an accountant. This excess in round numbers was $270,000 that was being built in with the expectation it would be used on other line items if needed. This is deceptive to the taxpayers and not an appropriate manner in which the budget should be constructed or presented. To their credit Mary Kortmann and John Barrett agreed with Mr. Malcolm.
At the last meeting of the BOE after 11:00pm that same excess money is now proposed to be reallocated to other areas. To those still watching the meeting the impression given to the public was that staff had been able to find this money and will now be able to allocate it to other areas.
When well meaning sincere citizens speak in favor of a budget and call it “bare bones” not knowing that excess has been built into some areas they are being “played”. It is unfair to them and deceptive and should never occur. This is money paid by all taxpayers in the last year budget after they were misled as to the real use for which it was intended. Perhaps a true reserve account would have been more appropriate. Now is the time for the Board of Education to step to the plate and admit what happen and make it right with all of our community.
At the last Town Council meeting there was a vote taken to expend emergency funds over and above the approved budget to pay for the excess cost of snow removal. Now is the time to express support for all in the community rich and poor alike. The Board of Education can recommend use of some or all of the excess that was originally overfunded in last year’s budget to help all our neighbors by earmarking money to the excess cost of snow removal either in the BOE budget or as a contribution to the Town dedicated to snow removal expense.
A budget that is fully disclosed and administered according to policy and generally accepted accounting principles is a budget that has a better chance of gaining support of the entire community. When a cloud of suspicion erodes support for education we potentially deny funds unjustly and thereby build a greater divide in available opportunity for the future.
Enfield went so far as to have a citizen audit of the Board of Education, at first it was met with skepticism. When the results came in thousand of dollars were adjusted, saved and reallocated. There was a better understanding of the budget and more taxpayer confidence that the allocation of money was being well spent. The work was done with all volunteers and came with training, the result was better schools. It is something that Coventry should explore in more detail.
The next Coventry Board of Education meeting will be February 17 at 7:30 in the Town Hall Annex. The proposed budget will be on the agenda.
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