Death Spiral in Portsmouth: Raising Taxes While Cutting Programs
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.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 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.
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.