The Monomoy Regional School District’s budget kerfuffle has received wide publicity over the past few weeks. The stakes are high. The school district’s leadership believes that education will suffer for Chatham and Harwich children if the towns, primarily Harwich, do not pass a Fiscal 2015 budget increase of some $828,000.
Without that increase, published reports predict a loss of 27 positions and several school programs.
History repeats itself
Having written about and lived in Harwich for fifty years, this editor has observed a consistent pattern among the town’s taxpayers. First, they will fund “adequate” education, but never “excellent” education. Second, if you lose the trust of the taxpayers they will fight your budget appropriations tooth and nail – forever.
Many taxpayers feel they were misled by school leadership during the regionalization process. As recently as last year, Monomoy’s current superintendent, Scott Carpenter, was forecasting a cost savings when the two high schools and middle schools were consolidated this year. Now we’re there and the schools want another $800,000.
A challenging sell in the best of conditions, taxpayers who feel they were snookered by Superintendent Carpenter and the school committee are pushing back on anything beyond a 2.5% increase in the Monomoy budget.
Lack of transparency
Nauset provides nearly every generation of worksheet they used in preparing the budget. A patient reader can follow the process from start to finish, essentially giving the public “a peek behind the curtain” as the budget evolves.
Monomoy’s website includes the superintendent’s budget presentation but offers none of the supporting documentation that Nauset provides.
“If I Were a Carpenter”
Superintendent Carpenter should start looking for a job.
Harwich taxpayers are acutely unforgiving of public officials they do not trust – and Carpenter has lost their trust. It’s not entirely his fault, but his promises of savings after school consolidation gave him ownership of the bigger misfeasance that many people perceive in Monomoy. He will never get beyond that here.
Mr. Carpenter’s career pedigree is one of academic excellence. In so many ways that makes him the right superintendent for Monomoy but Monomoy not the right district for this first-time superintendent. A more experienced superintendent might have sniffed out the baloney the school board was serving. Historically, Harwich voters have never funded the kind of school district that Monomoy aspires to be. A more experienced superintendent would never have made public promises about lacrosse teams to recruit school choice families unless he knew the funding was there.
Still worse, Carpenter’s lack of experience in school competition left him with the “loser’s position” of whining in print about charter schools. Is that the best he can offer?
How to move forward
Monomoy suffers from lack of transparency, mediocre academics and a budgeting process that sounds more like a fairy tale each day. That all leads to a lack of credibility with the towns’ taxpayers. Now at a low point, how does the district move forward?
First: Monomoy must re-cast its mission in line with what the taxpayers will tolerate. We believe that the school leadership wants to build an excellent, competitive academic program but has run into a brick wall of Harwich taxpayer resistance.
Perhaps the superintendent was misled by the school board into thinking that he was joining a district, like his old one, which was populated by taxpayers willing to pay for the best in education.
Sorry sir, Harwich funds “adequate” – not “excellent”. Monomoy is destined to be a baseline school district. Further acrimony with the taxpayers will only make things worse.
Second: If the budget appropriation fails, exercise the “nuclear option” of closing the regional middle school – moving the seventh graders to the high school and grades five and six back to elementary buildings. In Chatham, the elementary school could occupy the former Chatham High School, affording sufficient space if Harwich’s elementary school cannot hold the fifth and sixth graders. If the budget fails, this would be a way to shed the operating expenses of another school building.
Third, Monomoy must become much more transparent in its financial processes. They would do well to hire retiring Nauset Superintendent Dr. Richard Hoffmann to help them with that metamorphosis.
Over the years Dr. Hoffmann has functioned very well at explaining school finance to the public and coming up with budgets that the taxpayers will swallow. This editor has been critical of Hoffmann at times but feels his skill in this area might restore credibility to the Monomoy district.