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The false choice: your money or your kids’ futures

April 16, 2012

Town Hall wants you to believe that there are only two choices on the ballot at the municipal election on June 2. Either way, you lose.

You can vote in favor of a $3 million Proposition 2.5 tax override and pay an additional $330 on your property taxes every single year. Alternatively, you can vote against it and your kids will be in larger classes in the elementary schools and get fewer courses in the upper grades as dozens of teachers are laid off. Your bus fees and athletic fees will skyrocket and you will be paying more for your kids to eat lunch at school.

You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t, as it were.

Override advocates are trumpeting that a “Yes” vote is the least expensive choice of the options. Just close your eyes and swallow the bitter pill now or you’ll be taking it later.

This override vote is actually a false choice that has been masterfully created by politicians at every level of government. State and national politicians lack the political will to properly fund a tangle of underfunded and unfunded mandates on our school district. Local politicians ignored common sense when they approved union contracts and salary schedules they knew the town would never be able to afford with existing revenues. These politicians are the ones who forced Walpole into a corner.

The losers, in the end, are of course local students and their families. That’s a shame, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

On the ballot, there may be only two choices but in reality there are actually three. The third option depends solely on the willingness of our politicians to do the right thing and to put our students first.

Voting “Yes” doesn’t solve the town’s fiscal problems – it is a band-approach that kicks the can down the road and hopes that the federal and state government will fix the rest. Local government will grow bigger as dozens of new town employees are hired, all of whom will come with the requisite raises, bonuses, and benefits that come from being part of a public sector union. With personnel costs continuing to be the biggest factor in the town’s annual budget deficits, hiring more employees with spiraling raises and bonuses just compounds what will continue to cause fiscal problems for Town Hall into the future.

An affirmative vote on the override in June gives our kids a government they won’t be able to afford to sustain when they are older. We will all be paying even more five years down the road, or even before that, when town officials come to plead for more taxes to pour even more cash on these fiscal problems that they never solved in the first place. The town will grow increasingly expensive to sustain as property taxes skyrocket and government grows unchecked.

Voting “No” does one of two things. One possibility, as proposed by our town officials, is that, effective July 1, about a dozen teachers will be laid off and school fees will go up by the tune of about $550,000 per year. Most of the layoffs will occur in the elementary schools, where students will be put into larger classes, and the foreign language program will be drastically reduced in the middle schools.

Through it all, our municipal employees will walk away with pay raises and bonuses – neither of which are tied to performance but rather are dependent simply on the employee being alive to cash in. Our Town Administrator and School Superintendent will each collect a substantial raise and keep their free car to travel back and forth to their homes several miles beyond Walpole’s borders.

In total, the town of Walpole will hand out millions of dollars in raises, bonuses, vehicles, and other perks to its employees in the school and municipal departments. A hiring freeze that was instituted in 2008 during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression will continue to be brazenly ignored – just as it was in 2011 when the town hired a grand total of 12 new full-time employees and a multitude of part-timers.

That’s only one of the possible effects of voting “No,” however.

The other possible result, and the real third option on the ballot that only comes from a “No” vote: a well-funded school system and a more responsible, smaller government.

This is, of course, only if our politicians have the backbone to go this route when the override is decisively defeated.

The town has a $70 million budget, and has plenty of money to spend on our students and to give them the best education they or their parents could ever want. Unfortunately, a lot of the money is tied up in the previously-mentioned raises, bonuses, perks, new hires, and Capital Budget waste, just to name a few items.

The entire $550,000 school fee increases sans override could be avoided by going to the municipal unions and demanding concessions with the elimination of their annual pay raises and bonuses. Eliminating non-union raises would generate about $100,000 in savings. Being more sensible with the FY 2013 Capital Budget and avoiding a spending spree as the town went on last year would save at least $100,000, but probably more. Imposing a real hiring freeze would keep hundreds of thousands of dollars in the town’s coffers to be redirected towards our schools. Any number of other proposed budget cuts that have been suggested on 180 and elsewhere would keep teachers employed and students happy.

The outcome of the override vote will likely be “No” by a wide margin. It will be at that point that our elected officials will have to make a choice: continue to put irresponsible spending ahead of our children, or make the prudent choice and give our students a top-notch education with the resources that we all know the town already has.

If our politicians make the wrong choice, at least our students will know who to blame. Pay raises ahead of our kids will be the mantra of the year.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jirair permalink
    April 16, 2012 7:10 PM

    Question is how do we fix the problem? How do we stop these greedy politicians from screwing up our lives?

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