Vote yes to Tupper Lake school budget

We encourage Tupper Lake Central School District residents to vote yes to the second version of the 2013-14 school budget Tuesday.

We also think it would be wise to vote yes for a ballot proposal to buy two buses. Unlike one’s personal car, which one might run into the ground with little regard to resale value, it makes sense to trade in a school bus at the point when state aid runs out and resale value is still high.

We had recommended voting yes to the first budget proposal, too, even though it would have raised taxes more than 8 percent. That’s because, as district Superintendent Seth McGowan correctly says, the main problem is a state aid reduction rather than a local spending increase.

The state is backing away from its commitment to funding education and at the same time getting tougher on school districts, trying to get more for its money. From one perspective, that’s understandable, since schools have gotten much more expensive to run in recent generations, without a corresponding increase in educational quality.

But strict state requirements don’t let a school district like Tupper Lake’s just lop off hundreds of thousands of dollars from its budget without, frankly, making education significantly worse – teaching kids less.

Some of that quality reduction is built into this second budget proposal. A science teacher and a social studies teacher would be laid off, and five other instructors would leave and not be replaced: a foreign language teacher, a speech improvement specialist, a school psychologist and two special education positions.

Voters, however, spoke clearly that high taxes are a worse outcome. School officials got the message and came back with a budget that didn’t just edge under the state tax cap; it comes in a full percentage point below it.

To reject that would get into more severe cuts that, we fear, would undermine the community.

Of course, all this is a matter of perspective. Perhaps you feel angry about high taxes in general and want to take it out wherever you can. Maybe you, like the TV anchorman in the 1976 movie “Network,” want to yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Maybe you, like failed governor candidate Carl Paladino, want to take a baseball bat to your government.

Or maybe your anger is a little more reasonable, like that of IceMiser, an anonymous commenter on our website who wrote this about school employees Monday: “we don’t want to pay over the top salaries and benefit packages anymore. No more paid summers off, you should work all year round to collect a full years salary. No more lifetime medical coverage upon retirement, your coverage should end when you stop working, pay your own way. And there should be a limit on how long pensions are paid out, so the citizens are not stuck paying forever. Kill tenure! Salaries based on merit are far more adequate. No! means NO!”

While we wouldn’t go so far, society does need to hear proposals like these. They may sound radical, but as newspaper employees, we know firsthand that private-sector workers usually don’t get things like tenure, summers off, pensions and retiree health care. Yet we all pay for public workers to get them, as mandated by the state. It’s understandable that many people see this as unfair.

Nevertheless, envy and resentment shouldn’t be the basis of policy decisions.

Furthermore, voting down the Tupper Lake school budget won’t achieve any of IceMiser’s goals. The school board can’t renegotiate employee contracts at this stage in the game, and the state won’t let it limit retirees’ benefits.

For now, all Tupper Lake school officials could do is lay off more teachers and staff, which would mean worse education than its neighbors, more people without jobs, and less attraction for new residents and businesses.

We hope the community doesn’t choose that route.