By Hugh Drummond
An article titled “Take the long view on Monomoy costs” appeared in another publication recently and was written written by five Monomoy educators and contained many inaccuracies and unfounded conclusions.
The authors indicate that Monomoy like a newly opened restaurants must operate at a loss for a time. The facts are Monomoy has not operated at a loss. In fact they have $1,400,000 in excess funds built up over the first three years of operation. That means they have underspent their income and monies assessed to the Towns by an average of $466,000 per year. They have never had a loss year.
The author-educators state that the the increases are driven by health care costs, postemployment benefits, and insurance. Per the Districts budget presentation, health, property and liability insurance will increase about $348,396. Post employment benefits are forecast by the District as 1% of payroll. Three different numbers have been proposed – one actually less than last year. So if that is a cost increase driver then payrolls must go up. The last item “insurance “ is covered in the $348,396.
Conveniently overlooked by the authors is the cost impacts of upcoming teacher contracts. Futhermore, if you add up the expenses the authors cite, the amount for these accounts in the FY 2015 Budget was $4,921,084 and in the FY 2016 Budget the amount is $5,208,321 an increase of $287,237 or 5.8%. and only .008% of the overall budget. The overall increase in the Budget is $2,956,093.. What is the rest of the money for?
They indicate that School Choice has not been discussed. In every meeting I have attended the subject has been addressed. Bottom line: school choice balances should be available to support the budget. Amounts used in FY2015 to reduce town assessments (bills) left little to be applied in FY16. So, that revenue or offset is less for FY16.
The last override is included in Harwich’s taxes forever
The authors indicate that “because of Regionalization”, over a million dollars of School Choice money passed between Chatham and Harwich and is now unavailable. No such amounts passed between Chatham and Harwich. Joining two Towns into one District cancelled choice out costs for Harwich of $5K per student and increased Harwich’s share of the regional budget. Maybe the authors do not remember that Harwich taxpayers had an $993,183 Override to compensate for this situation. That Override is included in Harwich’s taxes forever.
The authors indicate that more than onethird of the budget is salaries. A deeper investigation of budget numbers shows Leadership, Instruction, O & M and Other Salary/Wages are almost 57% of the operating costs. Clearly, labor costs need to be controlled and all positions scrutinized. The District and its teachers need to look outside their classroom world and understand that it is unreasonable to expect taxpayers of both Towns, many of whom are on fixed income to pay 12% increase for a school system that is trying to be everything to every student. Monomoy needs to look at all options, including larger class sizes, online courses, evening or Saturday classes to become more efficient. Muncipal employees in Harwich have not had a salary increase in over three years. Will the Schools follow suit?
As far as families looking elsewhere for “small classes” and “rigorous offerings”, I would agree with the Selectman of Chatham who said in a February 25th joint meeting that Monomoy needs to demonstrate better academic results (metrics) to attract choiceout students back and keep current students in Monomoy District. Actual results work better than rhetoric.
Promises not kept
The authors indicate that Harwich and Chatham have realized significant advantages from regionalization including fiscal gains. The Taxpayers were Promised $4,125,000 in savings upon regionalization. This Promise was never kept. What fiscal gains are they talkng about? There have only been cost increases.
The authors say that without regionalization Harwich would have to spend millions of dollars to build a new High School. This is factually untrue. The State Agency that provides capital subsidies for school construction (MSBA) gives priority to helping larger population schools. In that vein their web site states, “the MSBA strongly encourages smaller towns to consider alternative options such as regionalization”. However, combining grades into one facility or building middle/high school combination facilities is another acceptable way to meet the “size” requirement of the State.
Recent school projects in Maynard and East Bridgewater, resulted in more than 50% subsidy without regionalization are two examples. After being unsuccessful in finding other interested and compatible towns. Maynard constructed a new high school for grades 812 for about $38 million.
East Bridgewater constructed a combination middle/high school receiving over 60% subsidy withour regionalizing. Bottom line: regionalizing might have increased State project subsidy by $3.5 but Harwich could have followed Maynard’s example and built a less expensive high school or do as East Bridgewater and others have done and build a middle/high school to meet town needs for years to come.
Finally the Authors indicate that Harwich has the “pleasant choice to realize capital gains from its former middle school”. The school has been on the market going on two years now with no takers.
It is costing the Taxpayers of Harwich over $150,000 a year to heat and maintain an empty building. If Harwich is able to sell it, the Town will still have to pay off remaining debt of about $200,000. Where is the (Capital Gain)?
As Educators I would expect that they would reseach and investigate all of the facts before going public with their opinions.
Taxpayers are entitled to receive complete and accurate information to make informed decisions in the voting booth.
Hugh F. Drummond lives in South Harwich. He is the former president of the Harwich Taxpayers Association.