EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 3, 2014

Letter: Claims about Timberlane budget don't add up

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — To the editor:

Many statements in Timberlane School Board member Peter Bealo’s letter last week (”Timberlane advances while keeping budget modest,” Jan. 30) cannot stand unchallenged.

1) Mr. Bealo claims the school district budget went up only 2.2 percent this year. It is actually up 4 percent because the SAU budget has been removed from the school budget this year. In previous years we paid for the school and the SAU in one bill, so to speak. This year, it is in two bills figuratively speaking. Only by ignoring one bill can the district say its budget went up just 2 percent. If you ran your household by this way of calculating, you’d always be going to relatives for a loan, which may explain why Timberlane cannot come to grips with its budget growth.

2) Mr. Bealo further claims the budget went through an “extensive and very thorough process with the District Budget Committee.” I am a member of that Budget Committee and I can tell you it did not go through any such thing. As just one example: More than 70 percent of the budget is for salaries and benefits yet the committee gets no information whatsoever about current or future staffing metrics. I requested this as a committee member and did not get it. I then made a Right to Know request and was refused. I made another Right to Know request and was again refused. The information is “not available” I was told by Mr. Collins, the School Board chairman. This was my reply: “So I’m to understand that the SAU drafted a budget that includes salaries and benefits for an UNKNOWN number of employees/positions? And that the current budget is also paying salaries and benefits for an UNKNOWN number of positions? I will be going to the attorney general next as this is patently incredible.” After I blogged about this situation on TimberlaneandSandown.wordpress.com, I received the information - in mid-January, more than a month after the budget had been approved by the Budget Committee.

Just so taxpayers know, the proposed budget was approved by the Budget Committee without staffing matrices for three years: 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. Does that sound thorough to you?

As for full-time kindergarten paying for itself, that remains to be seen. Ultimately I believe it will replace part-time kindergarten and become free. Neither the School Board nor the budget committee respected voters enough to recommend this program “extension” to warrant, and the School Board’s deliberation on the matter was so cursory that the topic never even made it into their minutes.

As for Sandown residents’ “shortsighted efforts to decrease taxes,” the district should remember that institutions collapse when their inability to restrain themselves exceeds the ability of people to pay. We have gotten to that point in Sandown. If this current budget passes unchanged, the district’s budget will have gone up 20 percent in just seven years while having lost 17 percent of our students - more than 800! Who is shortsighted here? Those who recognize budgets cannot go up indefinitely when the population they serve is shrinking, or those who reflexively stick their hand out for more rather than managing staff numbers and benefits?

It is true that Dr. Metzler has made some laudable changes at the district, and I believe he will continue to do so. The list Mr. Bealo provides is leadership accomplishments, none of which required much money. Management has been the problem at Timberlane, not a lack of financial resources.

At the school Deliberative Session on Feb. 6 in the Timberlane Performing Arts Center, taxpayers have a very real chance to vote to change this out-of-control budget. This is not an attack on education, it is an attempt to save public education from itself. Years from now, people will look back on this opportunity and either be inspired that people finally took control or be confirmed in their cynicism that nothing can ever change. Be in the PAC and vote to save our district from itself.

Donna Green