Letter: Yarmouth budget increases should be indexed

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When and if the Yarmouth Town Council says no to the proposed budget, I believe it’s critically important that they give the School Committee a goal – a number or a percentage increase that the council would accept, and which would be acceptable to the majority of Yarmouth taxpayers.

As I’ve stated in public previously, the cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security payments is zero for 2016 (actually zero for three of the past seven years), and the Consumer Price Index rose only 1.4 percent in 2015. Inflation for the past year averaged 0.12 percent. The annual inflation rate for February 2016 was 1.02 percent. Projected growth in gross domestic product for 2016 is 0.9 percent. All of these metrics are clearly less than the 2.5 percent to 2.75 percent salary increases that have been negotiated into the current employment contracts.

In my opinion a reasonable percentage increase in the overall budget would be acceptable – say 1 percent-1.4 percent. And in following years the Town Council could tie increases to some accepted measure of economic prosperity or progress.

Bruce Soule

  • Dave Mason

    I’ve been reading with interest the conversations regarding the proposed budget here in Yarmouth and waiting for the inevitable comments concerning teacher salaries and benefits.

    Mr. Soule’s comments contrasting cost of living adjustments and projected growth in GDP, with negotiated salary increases for teachers seem to infer that these increases are unfair and unnecessary.

    Whether they are or aren’t is a matter of opinion and beside the point. The bottom line issue here is that the current collective bargaining agreement between the teachers and the school department was negotiated in good faith and agreed to by both parties. Choosing not to honor it at this point would be a violation of professional ethics. Mr. Soule’s concern for the tax rate as it pertains to salaries should have been addressed months ago.

    It has been suggested in previous letters that the schools should, “do more with less.” I would urge those writers to be specific. What do they want cut? Books? Technology? Athletics? Heating oil? Certain programs, and if so, which ones? Any cuts made will have an impact.

    Most often, “do more with less” is code for “freeze teacher salaries” or “cut positions — class size doesn’t matter.”

    I’m grateful for the education my sons are receiving and I trust the administration to use my tax dollars efficiently and effectively.

    • Chew H Bird

      Regardless of negotiations, raising the total compensation package for government workers, regardless of discipline, in excess of the factors noted in this article is simply wrong and unfair to the people who fund the positions. Re-negotiating a contract is normal practice when conditions dictate there is viable need and this letter seems (at face value) to bring to light factors that need to be considered.

    • truther

      This is way beyond the scope of the present conversation, but I’m genuinely curious to know why it’s cost effective for Yarmouth to have four separate school buildings. Is the Rowe school, for example, really necessary? It’s an entire separate school facility simply for two years’ worth of students. Wouldn’t it be a lot cheaper just to have a few more classrooms in the YES building?

      • EABeem

        Primary, elementary, middle, high. It’s a configuration that works very well in my experience.

        • truther

          Oh yeah, I get the administrative distinctions. It’s the physical plants that puzzle me. Separate gyms, classrooms, infrastructure, parking, roads, utilities, etc. It just seems like an inefficient system with a lot of costly redundancies, though if that’s not the case then no harm no foul.

          • EABeem

            It’s not. We spent more than a year studying facilities back in 2000 and in 2001 citizens passed a $20 million bond to 1) tear down the old Rowe School and build a new one, 2) renovate Yarmouth Elementary and 3) renovate YHS and add a performing arts center. people not involved with school systems often seem to think that consolidation will save money, but it rarely if ever does. Just ask all those school districts forced to merge and consolidate by meddling politicians. Yarmouth did not have merge with any other school systems because it was able to demonstrate 1) outstanding learning results and 2) low administrative overhead. I say again, Yarmouth taxpayers get what they pay for — the best schools in the state and home values that are largely created by those great schools. There have been taxpayer groups trying to cut Yarmouth school budgets for as long as I can remember. They have never been successful and I hope they never are.

          • truther

            Thanks for the info, that’s very helpful.

  • EABeem

    Yarmouth taxpayers get a great bang for their bucks. They get one of the best public school systems in the country and their property values are a direct result of that educational excellence.

    • Jimmy_John67

      Don’t disagree but I will say the Falmouth school system is just as good (the two tend to go back and forth as the best districts in Maine in the rankings) however Falmouth spends less per pupil for the same result. As a Brunswick resident I am envious of both school districts as Brunswick cost per pupil is higher then both Yarmouth and Falmouth however the quality isn’t even close to being as good. Just goes to show that more money doesn’t necessarily directly equate to good schools.

      • David Craig

        Actually, in FY14, the most recent year for which statewide information is available, Yarmouth’s per pupil spending was slightly less than Falmouth’s. See page 22 of this linked report, Yarmouth School Department FY17 proposed budget. Page 8 of this report shows how the per pupil local share (i.e. the amount spent per pupil from local taxes) has decreased for 3 straight years and is lower now than in 2008. https://drive.google.com/a/fairchildsemi.com/file/d/0B2FViWDs_DfrRlZxT1pieTlhVUU/view

        • Jimmy_John67

          You are quoting data from the Yarmouth school district as your source. The Falmouth school district reports their per pupil cost to be $1,000 less then Yarmouth in FY 14. I’m sure every district manipulates the stats so that they don’t appear to be the highest amongst comparable schools when budgets go to voters. After all as everyone knows there are lies, damn lies and statistics. I’m guessing the truth lies somewhere in the middle with Falmouth being slightly lower the Yarmouth.

      • EABeem

        Per pupil costs are largely a function of school enrollment. You need a certain infrastructure for a system of 1500 to 2500 students. If you have 2500, your per pupil costs are going to be less than if you have 1500 students.

        • Jimmy_John67

          I agree which is why it is sad that Brunswick being the largest district in my comparison also has the highest per pupil cost. That is primarily a product of bad management.