In place of the nearly 10 percent tax hike that was defeated is a new budget proposal that offers a much more realistic tax increase of 3.79 percent, just under the state tax cap. The revised budget would raise taxes on a $100,000 home by $39 – as opposed to the earlier proposed $126 increase.
One proponent of the 10 percent tax hike said the additional expense amounted to a few 12-packs of beer, but the voters instead called for a mix of budget cuts and a modest tax hike.
Members of the Board of Education heard the message, and this latest proposal is more like it.
We recognize that some Clarence parents are unhappy. After all, while the resulting proposal is much more realistic, it involves cuts. A lot of them.
The new budget cuts $2.45 million from the $73.3 million budget defeated last week. That adds up to nearly 30 teaching, administrative and support positions. That's not all: the modified sports programs will largely be scrapped, classroom instruction in music and art will take a hit, and class sizes in general will increase as soon as next year.
Half the district's clubs will likely be slashed, officials said, as will summer school, social workers, some guidance counselors and the district's curriculum director.
If the budget is approved in next month's vote, 19 teaching and administrative positions will be cut in addition to the 14 positions that were cut in the initial budget. One resident reacted strongly to the notion of guidance counselors dealing with 330 students each. It will be tough. But the 4,801 votes against the original budget – to 3,431 for it – spoke volumes about the need for tough decisions.
The tax cap was set up to help force districts to make difficult budget choices rather than automatically raising taxes. In calling for a 10 percent tax hike, the School Board didn't do that. Credit School Board President Michael Lex for accepting responsibility “for the present board not meeting the needs of our core constituents.” He's right.
It's unfortunate that the board didn't anticipate the opposition the original budget would generate. The issue divided the community in an acrimonious debate, and now the community has to come together.
School Board members have certainly learned the lesson that even residents of the region's wealthiest suburb have a limit on how far they are willing to raise their taxes.
The fiscal situation in Clarence, as in all other districts in the region and beyond, is difficult. School officials are in a bind when salaries and benefits are three-fourths of the budget. Union contracts have entrenched long-standing practices that too often benefit teachers, administrators and staff at the expense of what's best for the district.
Continually cutting educational programs while raising taxes to pay personnel costs in a district with declining enrollment is an unsustainable trend. At some point, all interested parties – district officials, unions, parents and other residents – will have to sit down and come to an agreement on the best way forward for them – and for Clarence students.