Letter: Resident wants restoration of school budget dollars

To the Editor:
This year, our district's education budget was unanimously approved by our bipartisan Board of Education. It was widely praised as a “responsible” budget. Nevertheless, the Board of Finance recently voted to make $135,000 in cuts as well as remove another $40,000 from the budget. These cuts are misguided. Just as importantly, they're unnecessary. The city has no shortfall—in fact, property taxes are decreasing this year. In such a context, making cuts that will adversely affect students, hurt our energy-savings program, and create a future deficit seems the definition of "false economy."

• The first cut took Energy Savings allocations from $100K to $50K. If you're unfamiliar with the tremendous success our district has had with energy savings you should know that over the last five years, our district invested in a comprehensive energy audit and conservation program that yielded over $1.25 million in net savings based on energy cost avoidance estimates. This program also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 6,407 metric tons of CO2, the equivalent environmental impact of removing 1,335 automobiles for an entire year.

This year, our administration proposed continuing our conservation efforts with modest energy-saving investments in infrastructure. The proposed line item was $100,000 – less than half the cost of the previous years’ energy audit contract (an expense we no longer incur). Our district wants to be sure our investments yield the most energy savings possible and take advantage of incentives and rebates. With 13 school buildings to consider, $100K is a modest investment for this effort. Given our district’s enormously successful track record in making the most of energy conservation investments, I'm astounded by the Board of Finance’s decision to cut these investments by half.

• The second cut is $85,000 in our natural gas account. The proposed budget was based on projected use (given current energy-saving practices) and contractual rates. The cut will assuredly put this line in a deficit position for 2016-2017.

• In addition, there was $40,000 in the budget that could be used to fund a new language lab at Harborside Middle School, similar to the labs recently installed at West Shore and budgeted for East Shore. This $40,000 was originally allocated to help fund an additional Security Resource Officer at the middle school. When matching funds weren't made available, the language lab was proposed as a possible use for these funds.  The board removed these funds, and now Harborside students will not have the benefit of labs like the ones available at the other schools this coming year.

These hasty and ill-considered cuts now require a two-thirds majority by our Board of Aldermen to overturn. My hope is that ten of the fifteen members of our Board of Aldermen will find the wisdom to restore funding in these areas for the benefit of our environment, our students and our community. I'd also urge my fellow community members to contact their local alderman to ask that they vote to restore this funding.

Kara Flannery