The idea that the budget process is the time when we consider a number of worthy proposals and then make allocation decisions based on their relative merits is compelling. But it is fraudulent, and here is why. We have made multiple human resource decisions over the past several years, which have committed us to millions of budget dollars, and almost none of those decisions have been made within the budget process.
The following positions have been added since 2012: student intervention strategist, two deans of students, four elementary curriculum coordinators, transition coordinator, data analyst and intervention coordinator, educational technology coordinator. Course release time for every department head and chair was also increased. These decisions all had budget implications. But can anyone recall making these decisions in the context of a budget process?
Even if there was no additional budget commitment necessary in order to create these positions, the implication is that we could have used the savings from whatever position was eliminated for other purposes, such as enhancing the music program or improving maintenance. But we never had that debate because the decisions were made outside the budget process. While the need for those positions may have been compelling, it was never put up against other needs for comparison. Do we need a safety coordinator more than music programs or playground equipment? I don’t know, but we already chose the safety coordinator a few weeks ago. In addition, the fact is that there have been significant additional budget commitments as a result of these decisions, much greater than what we were led to believe.
Compare the wage and benefit expenditure from fiscal year 2012 of $41,006,946 to the same line in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 of $44,974,388. That is an increase of $3,967,442 which is a far cry from the Westerly Teachers Association financial impact statement of about $250,000.
Would any of you have voted differently on that contract if you had been informed that it would commit us to $4 million in new spending over three years as opposed to $250,000? We will never know. But the fact is that by making human resource decisions outside the budget process, either as a committee or behind closed doors with the Westerly Teachers Association, we have limited our ability to fund critical needs going forward.
Goodman is a member of the Westerly School Committee.