April 26, 2018
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Don’t limit school budget approval process to two votes

By Penelope A. Morrell, Special to the BDN

A state committee is currently considering a bill that would undermine local residents’ control to make decisions about their school district’s annual budget.

To fully understand the thinking behind this bill, one should read the opening statement of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, that she gave to the Education Committee regarding LD 742, “An Act to Amend the Regional School Unit Budget Validation Process.”

She asked the committee if it sends out state budgets to Maine residents to vote on. If the answer is no, then why does the state mandate school boards do it?

I was shocked with these opening comments before her testimony. Why aren’t legislative budgets approved by voters? She and every other lawmaker know Maine residents would not approve such wasteful spending of our hard-earned money.

LD 742, if approved, would limit voters’ opportunity to approve a school budget to two referendums. If a district attempted to pass a budget twice by referendum and failed, the last budget passed at the district budget meeting would become the district’s approved budget.

It would make the voting process a joke. School board members could inflate spending however they chose, with no incentive to keep costs down, because they would know that after two rejection votes, the budget would go forward regardless.

The RSU 23 superintendent from Saco suggested three votes instead of two. Three rejection votes only belabors the issue, with no incentive still for reduced spending by school boards and administrators.

That sounds like lawmakers really believe our money is theirs. It isn’t. For example, the superintendent of RSU 18, which encompasses Oakland, Belgrade, Sidney, Rome and China, met with town officials last year when it was apparent about $1.5 million (approximately 3 percent of the total budget) from state funds would not be forthcoming.

The superintendent and the school board declared they were forced to go to the taxpayers. The residents voted two times to cut the budget rather than raise taxes.

An excuse for introducing LD 742 is that taxpayers don’t participate in the process, but then at the polls they vote against the proposed budget. That happens because those who speak out against spending are heckled, belittled and ridiculed as being anti-education. Proponents of the spending are anti-taxpayers, especially those on fixed incomes and the elderly. No mercy or regard is shown for them.

The only recourse we have when they won’t listen to spending cut proposals during the budget process is to vote down the presented budget until they do listen. That isn’t anti-education; it’s anti-waste.

The solution to this problem is to abolish the education departments, both state and federal. Their unfunded mandates make it against the law not to have certain programs and perks. The union demands higher wages when taxpayers are receiving less in their paychecks and cost of goods are rising. It is unsustainable, unreasonable and certainly is not freedom.

Schools could run much more efficiently without government interference. No taxpayers spoke in favor of the bill, with two speaking against it. The only people supporting the bill were those who would benefit from the spending, like the Maine School Management Association.

If we don’t abolish the education departments, maybe we should implement Valentino’s suggestion to put every expenditure voted by the Legislature out to the voters for approval. Freedom would be restored to us who pay the bills.

Penny Morrell, of Belgrade, is a former selectwoman in Belgrade and serves as state director of Concerned Women for America of Maine.

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