I'd guess about 40 people turned up for the special budget meeting of the school board on March 30, where the public was invited to comment on the proposed budget. We sat on folding chairs in the school library, facing the board members and Dr. John Gallagher, the interim superintendent, who had the unenviable task of coming up with the new budget.
Dr. Gallagher kicked it off with a summary of his work so far. Additional students in special and technical ed had led to an upward revision in the budget, he said, but he'd made other cuts to limit the net increase to 2.1 percent over last year's budget.
It's not known what the effects of the new budget on tax rates will be. The good news was that (so far, anyway) it looked like there would not be a reduction in state and foundation aid.
After that, it was the audience's turn, and there ensued what a diplomat might call a lively and vigorous exchange of views. But I'm very pleased to report that a tone of respectful civility was observed on all sides. Dr. Gallagher certainly gave as good as he got, and he seemed to enjoy the process.
I don't pretend to understand all the issues, but here's my impression of the main question raised by people in the audience who were concerned about our painfully high taxes: Why doesn't the school board simply direct the superintendent to reduce the budget by a certain percentage and use that as a starting point?
Again, I'm pretty dumb in these matters, but the people proposing this were experienced administrators, and I wasn't clear on why it wouldn't be possible to proceed along the lines they suggest. There may be a good reason, in other words, but it didn't percolate into my brain that evening. If you know it, please send me an e-mail and I'll be happy to put it in the column.
I should say that even the most critical questioners made clear that they valued the outstanding efforts of both the superintendent and the board members to work within the almost surreal demands of our crazy-quilt education system. They also affirmed they would never wish to sacrifice academic excellence for savings.
And everyone appreciated the clear and knowledgeable explanations of various points offered by school staff such as Michele Friedman, Jana Atwell, and Cynthia Moody. We're all extremely proud of our school, which, as board members rightly pointed out, has such a fine record of achievement.
Of course, as one audience member said, we also can be proud of neighbors who are willing to stand up and ask hard questions.
On a lighter note, congratulations to Art and Babe Donaldson on their 65th wedding anniversary. Talk about a record of achievement! Thanks to Shirley Donaldson for letting me know about it.