Letter: Shrewsbury's Outrageous School Budget Proposal

  • Comments (13)
A Shrewsbury resident wants selectmen and the finance committee to publicly challenge the school department and school committee on their budget proposal.
A Shrewsbury resident wants selectmen and the finance committee to publicly challenge the school department and school committee on their budget proposal. Photo Credit: File

SHREWSBURY, Mass. — The Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to shrewsbury@dailyvoice.com.

To The Editor:

When will the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee make it clear to the School Committee and the school department that they must present realistic annual school budget proposals that 1) understand the financial limitations of the town and the state, 2) follow the guidelines provided to them in the Out Year Projection that the town manager issued a year ago, and 3) are consistent with the board's fiscal policy?

I should not have to point out to any member of the three committees that the economic environment remains poor, but evidently the members of the School Committee believe they are exempt from facing financial reality. But what I cannot understand is the reluctance of the selectmen and the Finance Committee to lay down the law to the School Committee.

At a three-board meeting back in 2011 School Committee members complained that the selectmen and the Finance Committee did not develop five-year financial plans. The Town Manager presented future year budget estimates in his Out Year Projection dated 2/1/2012. This projection allowed for a School Budget increase of 3 percent for FY2014 (note that the total budget projection for 2014 was still out of balance by a $357,000 deficit.) Then in October 2012 the selectmen issued fiscal policies indicating that it would not support an operating budget override. Yet the school department still presumed to develop a FY2014 School Budget that is 8.85 percent higher than FY2013! Meanwhile the Town Manager's recently released FY2014 Budget indicates he can support a School Budget increase of only 1 percent based on his current revenue estimates.

I won't now repeat all of the facts I have communicated to both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee during past school budget cycles, such as unsustainable annual salary increases, the refusal to increase the ratio of classroom teachers relative to total school staff, and misleading data in school budget packages, other than to say that no one has refuted them.

The selectmen and the Finance Committee should publicly challenge the school department and the School Committee for presenting such an outrageous FY2014 school budget proposal.

John Lukach,

  • 13

Comments (13)

Nice things cost more than crappy things. It's not difficult.

There are some here with the opinion that we should "stop the talk about teachers’ hard work and stressful environment". people who speak like this do not have a clue. As the spouse of a teacher in Shrewsbury, I see her teaching in a classroom with more than 25 students in a room meant for 20.
Without the help from parent volinteers it would be an impossible task. When the school day ends and she returns home, there are papers to correct and then preparation for the next day. Drive by any of the schools on a Saturday or Sunday and you will invariably see teachers cars at the school. She deals with young children who are the future of this town. She takes this responsibility seriously as do most of the wonderful teachers in this town. Maybe it is time to start the conversation about the budget at this level and at the same time give our teachers a lot more credit for what they do.

@nsirish. I think most of the people in this country realize being a teacher is an extremely hard job, not only are they there to teach, a lot become wrapped up in the social part of teaching as in lack of support at home, broken families, challenged youngster, special needs. It is, has been a stressful field for a long time. Not to take from your wife, other professions are as stressful or more. Health care providers taking care of the sick of all ages, working with less, money not the best in the world. Nursing home nurses and aides, most without retirement benefits, maybe company sponsored Profit Sharing or 401k plans, no health benefits when they retire but for medicare an supplemental medicare plans which are expensive and mostly out of pocket for the individual. Middle management another sector of people, doing more with less, companies doing away with pension plans, bringing work home, working 50 to 60 hours a week at the office, traveling all over the country being away from their loved ones. Teachers are not unique to this problem. Granted they are the care takers of the future, It is a noble profession along with social workers, psychologist, therapist, nurses aides, the list goes on, these people like teachers are dedicated to their clients and most of them will not have what teachers have when they retire, A pension and health care. As I have mentioned before, we are running out of money, the Fed continues to print "Funny Money" to prop up the economy, keep interest rates low devaluing the currency and making it nearly impossible for elderly couples to keep up with the finance and the real kicker the insatiable need and desire to keep borrowing from the Chinese to pay for all of this. Just for kicks, if you have some time, Google Unfunded Liabilities for the Federal, State, Local governments and corporate and private debt. It will shock you. The town of Shrewsbury has unfunded health and pension liabilities that have to be taken care of, I believe this mandated from the state, It is a large sum, when combined I believe it is over 50 million dollars, just about what the whole town budget is for a year. Self interest is killing this country!!! My Humble Opinion

I think John makes some really good, valid points. After reading his letter again and his most recent comment, I'd rather have him on the school committee - fighting to keep things fair - instead of others who aren't putting anything forward to promote positive change. Good for John and anyone else who has the (chutzpah) to throw their ideas out there and go toe-to-toe with the "big decision makers."

Wcmom asks me to offer solutions. Evidently she hasn’t bothered to listen when I have spoken on this subject at public meetings. She didn’t even read my letter carefully or she would have seen me reference two solutions. One of them is that I have pointed out for several years that annual salary increases (STEP and COLA combined) of teachers, and by extension administrators, have been too high and were not sustainable. Now we face the full impact of these past salary contract decisions. And please, stop the talk about teachers’ hard work and stressful environment. Look at average people who work in the private sector – they have had to work harder too in the face of stiff competition from the global economy, and they haven’t had the advantages of (almost) guaranteed annual salary increases, strong protection from layoffs, and better benefits. And oh yes, teacher salaries average higher than those of similar jobs in the private sector. But when I challenged the School Committee to revise the salary steps in order to reduce the annual growth in salary costs, they indicated it could not be done! By the way, the state website shows that for 2011, the latest year available, average teacher salaries in Shrewsbury were $72,532 vs. the state average of only $70,340.

What wcmom and many parents don’t want to understand is that the school department can reduce the size of budget increases by reducing the growth in the cost of providing services (teacher salaries) or by reducing the number of teachers. That it almost inevitably talks about reducing the number of teachers, to the detriment of the children, should tell you something about its priorities.

One last point: why does wcmom postulate in a comment to me that the preliminary school budget may be some nefarious and evil plot? I never said that.

John Lukach

And for the record, I am not a tax and spend liberal. I voted for Mitt Romney and Scott Brown. I like my taxes low and I want to see them spent wisely. Not subsidizing solar power companies and a welfare system that offers no incentive to work. I also fully support pension reform. The public sector must also adjust to the changing landscape. I am also not a fan of the teacher's unions and the tenure system. But that being said, at least with local taxes, you see the results. I have full faith in the Town Manager, the Board of Selectmen, and the Town Meeting Members to spend our tax dollars wisely. But take a look where Shrewsbury ranks as far as property tax burden. Maybe the word frugal was a poor choice. One can be frugal without being cheap. Right now, we are being cheap.

Grandma and Mom also wanted good things for their children, the greatest asset we have as a community. Grandma and Mom wouldn't expect their kids to go a school where there isn't a principal present half of the time because she was split between two schools. I wouldn't call the Shrewsbury schools the "biggest and flashiest". Did you see Sherwood recently? It was a dump and needed to be replaced. And the State kicked in a large portion of the funding. How large do class sizes need to go? Tell me, when you own a home, do you maintain it? Do you get the furnace tuned up? Do you replace old broken appliances? Do you add a fresh coat of paint? The idea is that you invest so it maintains its value. A school system is no different. No one is asking for the biggest and the flashiest. They are asking for the town to fund the schools at a reasonable level. And I say reasonable compared to other cities and towns in the Commonwealth.

For the sake of argument, we pass an operational over ride at the next election to provide some financial relief to the schools, the fire department, police, water, etc. What happens the next year when we have another budget deficit, another 2 1/2 over ride to close the gap. The economic forecast for the near future is not that great. We have a governor proposing a switch in sales tax and income tax. Income tax proposal increase to current rate of sales tax. The current sales tax to what the current income tax is. This proposal will be put on the backs of middle class people. Answer you say, how about this, like the majority of private sector workers who are responsible for their future retirement and health benefits how about the public sector joining those ranks, Federal, State and local governments provide 401ks along with matching contributions from the company. How about doing away with retirement ages of 50, 55 and standardize with Social Security at age 62. As I am sure you are aware, employee wages have been stagnant for years an nearly impossible for a middle class family to keep up with. The government can, it is within their authority to increase taxes at their discretion, however it will get to a point where the public has no more to give. We continue to print money to prop up the economy. The Fed continues their insane policy of low interest rates so we can continue the unabated borrowing and spending. We worry about the children's education, we also should worry about their future economics, they are the ones that are going to have to make the real hard decisions, deal with the pain of a dismal economy. One answer to this, vote people out of office like Nancy Pelosi who stated the other day "we don't have a spending problem" As far as being embarrassed about being "Frugal. Better frugal than in debt up to my eyeballs. Just my opinion.

Want a simple solution? How about trying the one that great-grandma, grandma, and mom all suggested when we were young: don't spend beyond your means. Yes, it is nice to have the biggest, newest and flashiest of everything ... but all of that costs a lot of money. If we don't have the money, why are we (they) spending it?! Let's exercise our power by voting out the people who are spending our money after then we can earn it, and vote in people who are willing to present real, common-sense solutions that won't put us all in the poorhouse.

But what's flashy about 30 kids in a class? (in a classroom built for 20)? Instead of slogans, what about solutions?

One answer might be, have public employees play by the same retirement rules as most of the public sector. Most, if not all major companies have given up on employee retirements. Provide them with 401ks with matching contribution for the local, state or federal government. How about getting the retirement age in line with Social Security, 62. There are many things the politicians can do, it just takes the will to do it. However our politicians do not have that will, they want to keep their job like some potentate that ruled during the middle ages. Just for fun, Google "unfunded liabilities for Federal, State and local and for good measure business and private liabilities. It is an eye opener.

Is it possible that the preliminary budget presented by the school committee is not some nefarious and evil plot, but simply an exercise in showing what is truly needed to begin to restore the many positions and programs that have been cut in past year. No one truly thinks there is a magical wand that is going to make that money appear, but we as taxpayers need to understand that level funding of a budget full of mandates, requirements and contractual obligations is a CUT. It's tiring to hear the same message from Mr. Lukatch again and again. (I admire his time management skills that he has the time to attend all of these hearings and write so many letters.). Mr. Lukatch, please offer some solutions. The town needs solutions, not the endless circle of criticism we all seem to be stuck in. I hear you have a background in finance -- what do you think? Beyond accusations, what solutions can you propose? Folks would like to hear some ideas.

Let's continue to fund our schools on a level on par with wonderful places like Lawrence. See what that does to your home value in 5-10 years. Who do you think looks to buy a house Shrewsbury these days? Young families with school age children looking for a town with top rated schools. They aren't going to move to the town that makes headlines for high class size, shares a Principal between two schools, and annually falls on LOW end of school funding relative to its neighbors. Even with a relatively modest override, Shrewsbury would have a tax rate near the bottom of the state. I agree with fiscal responsibility. But fiscal responsibility does not always mean paying the least possible amount is the best approach. It's embarrassing to live in a town that is becoming infamous for it's frugality.