April 16, 2007

Death Spiral in Portsmouth: Raising Taxes While Cutting Programs

Carroll Andrew Morse

Meaghan Wims of the Newport Daily News has the details of the Portsmouth’s school committee’s budget proposal for next year…

The School Department is proposing a $33.4 million budget for the 2008 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The tight spending plan represents a $1.3 million increase over current-year spending and falls within the state's 5.25 percent cap on tax-levy increases in fiscal 2008.

To keep expenditures balanced, the school board voted this week to close Prudence Island School after this school year and to change Portsmouth Middle School to a grades 6-to-8 configuration, with fifth-graders being housed in the community's three elementary schools.

The school district also has cut a third-grade, a fifth-grade and a special education teacher, plus supplies, special education tuition and building maintenance costs.

Once again, we see a Rhode Island community planning to raise taxes and cut programs at the same time. And the problem is not that Portsmouth has a history of underfunding its school system. As Keith Kyle and Thomas Wigand of the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens organization have documented, Portsmouth increased its school budget by about 50% between 1997 and 2007. Yet despite a decade of increases, one budget proposal made last year by the Portsmouth school committee involved a 9.1% tax increase coupled with eliminating 12.5 teaching positions. Why the Portsmouth school department is consistently unable to afford its existing educational baseline is a question in need of an answer.

To reiterate the often mischaracterized position of "fiscal conservatives", it’s not an inherently bad thing to raise taxes to pay for good schools. But constantly having to raise taxes and cut programs at the same time, repeatedly demanding that citizens pay more and more to receive less and less, is a sign of a structural problem within the education bureaucracy that is a bigger threat to the quality of education than is the total funding level. Perhaps Mr. Kyle and Mr. Wigand say it best…

The Portsmouth School Department appears to have a management problem, not a budget appropriation problem.

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Answer? Pensions.

Nuff said.

G'night everybody.

Posted by: Greg at April 16, 2007 10:26 PM

We need better understanding of school organizational functions.How many school districts at reasonable intervals do a management study by outside qualified firm?
We oftern know how our candidates stack up against each other academically but how do our Rhode Island school district stack up against each other management wise?How many people really care about an answer to that question?
Also school committee positions are not especially fought over.However five people including myself,a teacher in Westerly who is a NEA member,are candidates for the open seat on the Chariho Regional School Committee from Hopkinton.In 2006 the school committee candidates in the Chariho district listed on the ballot were all elected.Terri Serra(D) in Richmond won the only seat in that town;George Abbott(R) an incumbent was re-elected in Hopkinton,the only candidate on the ballot for three openings in my town:and in Charlestown,"Andy" Polouski(R),a former teacher, was re-elected with him the only candidate listed on the ballot for three openings from that town.Other seats were filled by write-ins.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at April 17, 2007 11:06 AM

In the second paragrah it should be school districts instead of candidates.I also note I misspelled often.

Posted by: Scott Bill Hirst at April 17, 2007 11:09 AM

Management problem? Organization problem? How about a teacher compensation problem! The reason why the cost of education and taxes are going up at the same time that services get cut is because of how fast teacher compensation (pensions included) is rising. Yet nobody likes to mention teacher pay.

If the growth of teacher pay is not somehow controlled or slowed down we will all continue to see rapidly rising costs in education and continued cuts in education services at the same time for many, many years to come. Great deal for the NEA and AFT, but not for anyone else.

Posted by: frank at April 18, 2007 8:17 AM

Teachers make over $100,000 average compensation now. If current (8%)pay/benefit increases continue unabated it will be $200,000 in 6 years and $400,000 by 2023.
All public employees need to receive fewer benefits and retire at 62 with a 401 K pension.
The number of employees also needs to be cut. None of this is rocket science or Rosetta Stone material.

Posted by: mike at April 21, 2007 9:57 AM
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