The Concord Monitor published a “My Turn” piece by Wilmot selectman former state representative Tom Shamberg reflecting budget anguish in Kearsarge Regional School District (which serves Bradford, Newbury, New London, Sutton, Springfield, Warner, and Wilmot). Mr. Shamburg says:
As communities around New Hampshire prepare to make important school funding decisions at town meetings this March, a familiar struggle is taking shape. The demands being placed on taxpayers to maintain high-quality education plays out with rising tension every year, as people worry about affordability. It is time for state lawmakers to alleviate that pressure.
Take the recent discussions at the deliberative session of the Kearsarge Regional School District. The proposed operating budget is roughly $40 million. Locals offered an amendment to reduce spending by $826,000, or 2 percent. The angst that arose from the parents, employees and taxpayers in the audience was palpable. Parents worried about cuts to academic and extracurricular programs. Senior citizens on fixed incomes and homeowners expressed that their backs are against the wall, and they simply cannot afford tax hikes of any kind. Both sides have legitimate concerns. This scene is playing out all across New Hampshire.
The Kearsarge Regional school board and the municipal budget committee understand the angst. Why are citizens facing ever-increasing tax rates for town residents and budgets? It’s because New Hampshire lawmakers are downshifting school operating costs through unfunded mandates. This is an impotent funding approach and a myopic vision of both political parties on how to use the state’s general fund money for public education.
Mr. Shamberg goes on to propose state support for various STEM initiatives. An enhanced STEM curriculum would be an asset to New Hampshire students but budget increases are not driven by state STEM requirements. There have been no new STEM instructional requirements.
However, the Legislature has shifted health and retirement costs from the state to the local level and those substantial increases are driving up school budgets and have the potential to displace STEM and other important learning opportunities. This is a theme emerging in local funding debates across the State.