For the first time in my 13 years on the Sullivan West School Board, I felt compelled to vote in opposition to the resolution adopting the 2020-21 school budget. In the past, there were individual …
For the first time in my 13 years on the Sullivan West School Board, I felt compelled to vote in opposition to the resolution adopting the 2020-21 school budget. In the past, there were individual line items of the budget I didn’t agree with, but I supported the overall premise and direction of the budget and always voted yes. I simply could not do that this time as I do not accept the overall premise the budget was based upon nor some of its key details.
First and foremost, the budget calls for a 1.98 percent increase to the tax levy. It doesn’t sound like much and in normal times, I would not have any issue with such an increase if it was necessary to forward our mission to provide the highest quality educational experience possible.
But these are anything but normal times and that is my first and foremost concern with this budget. What is being presented is essentially the same budget that was drafted pre-COVID-19. It includes no provisions, adjustments or concessions to reflect the drastically different situation we are living in now. In essence, this budget says that nothing has changed, COVID-19 never happened, 36 million people didn’t lose their jobs and everyone’s financial situation is exactly as it was. That is just not the case and I cannot endorse a budget that fails to represent real-life circumstances.
In particular, this budget includes $425,000 in RAISES for all school personnel. Again, back in February when the budget was originally being constructed, this was not a problem—these were negotiated increases assuming an economy that could sustain it. That is not the current climate. The economy is severely depressed and our taxpayers, many who have lost their jobs or have taken significant pay cuts, should not be asked to pay for raises for school staff. They are in desperate need of relief, anything to reduce their financial burdens. What this budget proposes adds to their financial obligations—it does nothing to help.
That is not my idea of us “all being in this together.” It dismisses the school’s role as being a community partner mindful of where the community stands at any particular time. If there ever was a time to step up and be there for our community, this is it. Why would we turn the other way?
I was told that if we went to a 0 percent tax increase this year (what I was advocating for), it would have drastic ramifications for the coming years. Again, if these were normal times, I would fully agree with that futuristic approach. But we are in a state of emergency that calls for immediate action and relief for our taxpayers. We cannot worry about what may happen two or three years down the line. If the federal government had been concerned about the long-term effects of the trillions in dollars they are printing in much-needed stimulus aid and economic disaster relief, no one would have received any assistance. The repercussions of printing all this money will likely be devastating. But that was not the task at hand. Urgent times call for urgent measures, and they certainly call for some type of acknowledgment and action. This Sullivan West budget completely ignores the emergency we are in and facing.
I’ve been on the Sullivan West School Board longer than any member in the history of the district. I’ve seen the gamut of ups and downs and how unpredictable events can impact a school district and its relationship with the community. I’ve always been guided by one philosophy when casting any vote or making any decision on behalf of the school: does it benefit the most amount of students possible while also being sensitive to community concerns?
While this budget might be our best possible option relative to benefitting our students, it is not sensitive to the needs and concerns of our community. The two must go hand-in-hand.
Before you vote for this Sullivan West budget or any future budget, please consider what the budget represents, what it contains and its sensitivity to the community at large.
Ken Cohen, of Jeffersonville, NY, is a 13-year member of of the Sullivan West School Board.