Clarifying My View on Cuts to Tiverton Schools
Since I offered commentary on Anchor Rising against the Tiverton Budget Committee’s decision to level fund the local contribution to the school budget, it seems reasonable to note, in this space, that I’ve revised my position. As I explained here and here, I’d been misled by the language that the School Committee and administration use when they discuss staying within the cap on tax increases.
The cap is actually a limit on the amount of additional money that the town can raise from property taxes. What the district calls “the cap” has to do with what it requests from the town. Thus, by the district’s definition, the town would have to make up its entire drop in state aid — which just about exactly eats up the actual cap — in a budget that’s just about half the size of the schools’, which would almost precisely require decimating town services.
In other words, having been following the debate more closely on the school side, I’d misunderstood the implications and consequences of “level funding” the district. Such things happen, and it’s possible to derive longer lasting lessons from errors. In this case, the lesson is that Rhode Island school districts actually acquire state aid through two channels: That which goes directly to them, and that which flows through the town, which is required to maintain its level of contribution. Based on “maintenance of effort” law at the state level, towns are forbidden from passing their loss of state aid on to the schools, which represent by far the greatest expenditure in the budget (with union labor representing by far the greatest percentage, typically 70-80%).
In those circumstances, level funding both the school and the municipal government, while raising taxes somewhat to compensate for lost state aid seems like it ought to be the centrist position — union and government operative declarations that it’s “extreme” notwithstanding. Of course, when elected officials continue to sign unreasonable contracts, the rancor inevitably becomes more vicious.