GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 30, 2013

Letter: Time to get real on Manchester school costs


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

The Manchester Essex Regional School District needs our help.

Whether out of oversight, indifference, or failure to prioritize (maybe there is something in the drinking water?) we need the MERSD administration to finally take seriously their $22.5 million in unfunded healthcare liabilities.

Why? Because it is their obligation to Manchester taxpayers, who fund 63 percent of their operations, to provide us a realistic plan for reducing district debt .... now, and for future generations. Like your credit card, this debt compounds in proportion to the degree it is ignored.

Here’s where we can help. With the 2008 downturn of the economy, the town has had to take a hard look at “extras,” and the district must continue to do the same, in fact, more so. Surely, we can help the district find contribution opportunities within its present budget to offset its liabilities.

For instance, since 2009, the district has spent over a half-million dollars ($538,673) on yearly stipends. Per the union contract, virtually any and every “extra” service performed by a member of the staff is compensated — such as basketball scorekeepers ($1,883), ticket takers ($2,754) and more. Huh?? There are 16 sports programs, all with healthy coaching stipends.

In the same time frame, $3.2 million was spent on teaching assistants. Do our teachers need that much support — one for every three teachers? By contrast, with an ever-decreasing share of total tax revenues, town governance is largely a volunteer effort.

What’s wrong with this picture: the district’s first-pass, fiscal 2014 budget request included a 10 percent increase in spending on salaries. At best, that’s poor reality testing; at worst, it’s unconscionable.

At Town Meeting Monday night, we can say “no” to the merest suggestion of an override. We can say “no” to any budget that fails to pay down existing liabilities. No more taking the “deep pockets” of this community for granted.

Let’s get real.

SHEILA P. HILL

Running Ridge Row, Manchester