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Letter to the Editor: Schools Need Plan Before Making Any Cuts

A Buker Elementary School parents writes with her opinion about the fiscal 2014 school budget.

To the Editor:

I am just hearing, as many others are, that there is a request from the two towns for the School Committee and (Superintendent) Dr. (Michael) Harvey to cut $500,00 from the school's budget, due early February.

It sounds like cuts are going to be made at the high school level and could result, for one, in larger class sizes as a result of scheduling changes. I know we are proud of our current high school's ranking but we need to remember that our ranking is an aggregate achievement and not a single year's efforts. Our district attained that ranking by having a strategy, forethought, commitment, an accurate and sound budget and consistency in leadership that was in line with the community's standard for quality education.

I ask that whatever your point of view, regardless of how involved you have or have not been; that you consider coming, listening and asking thoughtful questions around our district's lack of planning. It seems like we are allowing Dr. Harvey to suffer from a case of "analysis paralysis," either that or he is keeping his cards close so our proverbial "hand" is forced to work with the budget only after cuts are made.

Currently, Dr. Harvey has not delivered a strategic plan and as far as we know, a draft may or may not be in the works. While I want to see consistency in leadership, I question Dr. Harvey about how we can make effective and thoughtful cuts with no top-line planning.

Let me be clear, my issue here isn't necessarily with the budget cuts or with two town savings, but my issue is with the lack of forethought from our district in how to make the most effective cuts with the least impact. We, as a community, must demand a strategic plan or at least some answers to our questions so we can understand where Dr. Harvey, over the long term, plans to steer this ship. This is not the time for community abdication, not the time for us, as parents and taxpayers to take our eye off the ball.

For those of you who don't have children in the school system, I can understand that as a community we have not had strong leadership in the district in some time and we may or may not have made good decisions around budgeting, but if we don't maintain a sound school system, the draw for young, successful families like myself and the hundreds of others who will tell you they moved here for the schools, is gone.

What, I ask you, will that do for your property value? What would become of our community then?

I agree that our children don't need the fanciest facilities or perfect parks and playing fields, they don't need constant access to the latest technology or individualized learning plans for every little struggle, but at bare minimum we have to fund education that is at a higher standard than other comparable communities. If we don't, I think you would agree, the future of our entire community is at stake.

There will be no reason for some to choose Hamilton-Wenham over Lexington, Concord, Lincoln-Sudbury or Manchester-Essex. Who then would fill the two to four bedroom houses that line the streets of downtown or the larger, family style homes that pay the big tax dollars? Just food for thought.

I know we can't draw blood from a stone but demanding a budget that is in line and accurate and a plan that is sound is in the best interest of all of us, not only for Support our Schools but for Enough is Enough as well. The issue of education and the accountability of our academic leadership affects all of us, really. The push-pull of this power struggle between the parents and the non-parents in the community isn't helping.

This timing of our collaborative action is crucial; sources are saying that the Board of Selectmen in Wenham and FinCom in Hamilton told the School Committee representatives to cut an additional $500,000 from the budget. The School Committee representatives also told the group that they planned to vote a tentative budget on Thursday, Jan. 10. The meeting is at 7 p.m. in Bessie Buker Elementary School's Multipurpose Room.

Anyone interested should consider attending this meeting to hear:

1) How the SC plans to address the request to cut an additional $500,000

2) What is in the "tentative" budget

3) When, if at all, a drafted strategic plan is due to the School Committee for review

Sincerely,

Melanie D'Orio

Parent, Bessie Buker Elementary School

Jay Burnham January 11, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Melanie...Thank you for your sincere and thoughtful letter. I have two comments: #1. You stated that "Our district attained (a high) ranking by having a strategy, forethought, commitment, an accurate and sound budget and consistency in leadership". Actually, I would argue that we had anything BUT an "accurate and sound budget and consistency in leadership". The HWRSD accounting was proven flawed and misrepresented for years, and leadership...well, we've had three superintendents in almost as many years, and the SC has nearly entirely been replaced in the same period. The strategy used to be "budgeting by override", but fortunately that too ended. See Part II...
Jay Burnham January 11, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Part II: #2: The issue of a strategic plan. The blueprint for a plan already exists. It is the Operational Audit which was approved by voters in both towns three years ago. It was completed and made available two years ago. Superintendent Harvey has a bound copy of his own, as do members of the Boards of Selectmen, School Committee and any member of the public that wants one. Personally, I hope that Superintendent Harvey has a plan to implement many of the recommendations of the Operational Audit. That makes common sense. It also makes sense for us to trust him with the leadership role we have have awarded him. He is the experienced, professional and committed individual we hired to do the job. And with the support of the "new" School Committee and the community, I believe we can look forward to positive results and efficiencies.
kerstin locherie February 11, 2013 at 02:34 AM
With the exception of the so called "Great Recession" I lived in Beverly, Peabody, New Hampshire and Vermont. I have lived in Hamilton for almost twenty years and have never experienced home prices plummeting due to the fiscal ups and downs of our school system.

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