Residents rally against cutting Dover school budget to meet tax cap: Small group counters message, urging fiscal restraint
By ANDREA BULFINCHabulfinch@fosters.com
Thursday, May 17, 2012John Huff/Staff photographer Several hundred teachers, parents and students hold signs and shout slogans to support the schools at a rally in front of the McConnell Center in Dover Wednesday
DOVER— Perhaps of most concern to those who took part in the Education Matters rally held before the City Council meeting Wednesday evening was the possibility those opposing an override to the city's tax cap are unwilling to help future generations enjoy the same quality education they themselves were afforded as children.
Holding signs and speaking one by one, community members filled a large portion of the McConnell Center lawn urging each other to take a stand for education in the Garrison City before the public hearing on the school portion of the city budget, scheduled before the regular City Council meeting.
The community action group Dover Matters helped to organize the Education Matters rally allowing residents, teachers, students and others to be heard on issues regarding the ongoing budget process and the potential negative effects on the School District.
While the city's portion of the budget meets tax cap restrictions, the school portion of the overall budget does not, coming in at $46.9 million and exceeding what is allowed per the tax cap by $870,000.
An amendment was narrowly passed at a council meeting last week to bring the overall budget in under the tax cap to an amount roughly $870,000 less than the budget originally proposed by City Manager Mike Joyal.
Should the council come to an impasse on the budget, Joyal's proposed budget would be passed.
The process is drawing mixed feedback from the community and drew a smaller rally of residents opposed to Education Matters and not in favor of overriding the tax cap. The disagreement over how to best spend taxpayer money has become frustrating for all involved.
"I am very disappointed in the fact that this is a tax cap issue," School Board Chairman Rocky D'Andrea said. For him, the issue has nothing to do with the tax cap, but rather where the city chooses to invest its money.
"It's a where the city spends its dollars issue," he said.
Longtime resident Pete Sorensen, who said he had three children go through the Dover School System, said he's been seeing budget cuts to education in the state over the last 20 years and says what Dover faces now is part of a larger "funding problem."
"Without education we're going to go downhill as a nation," he said.
His wife, Pat, is on the board of directors for Dover Adult Learning Center, whose programs were on an original list of items which, if cut, would help meet the tax cap budget. She said she feels the most important thing a community can do is educate its children and adults.
Her fear, like others who have spoken at School Board meetings over the last few months, is that once programs are cut to meet the budget, they won't return.
Sorensen said a sign held by someone at the rally echoing her own sentiment stated it best: "Education cuts don't heal."
"If we want this community to flourish and bring more people in, we need this school system to flourish," she said.
Representing the perspective of some local veterans, Don Medbery pointed out that there are plenty of teachers in the country working for less money and doing the same or more in the classroom. With no raise in his own cost of living, he does not feel it is his or his peers responsibility to fund the extra money for the school system.
"We went and did our thing for the country," he said.
He said that, of course he wants children in the community to be educated, but that "you can only stretch the rubber band so far."
Former Mayor William Boc said he was disappointed by the opposition to overriding the tax cap calling it unfortunate and short-sighted.
"It costs money. And it's the responsibility of each generation to step up to the plate like past generations have done," he said.
He believes the option to override the tax cap was put in place when the tax cap budget was adopted years ago. He said there is no more important reason to have to do so than education.
But it's not just the effect on academics that's worrisome to many. It's also the programs, such as like athletics, which are part of what draws students and families into the Dover community and school district, being threatened by cuts.
"There are times when some of the extra things make a difference," Debra Conroy, a paraprofessional for special education at Horne Street School and mother of four children who have gone through the school system in the city, said.
She also felt that it's up to each generation to step up and ensure the education of children in the community.
For others, such as resident and St. Mary Academy substitute teacher Randal Heller, giving more money to the School District doesn't make sense until students' scores improve.
"I love kids and I love teaching," he said naming a chalkboard and chalk as two of the only items a good teacher needs to teach.
The value of teachers themselves, however, was a top priority for the Education Matters demonstrators saying $870,000 in extra cuts would mean losing many of them and creating larger class sizes.
Simone Dubay, a 2010 graduate of Dover High School and who is hoping to teach in the district after college, also sees the budget issues as a threat to a potential job and coming back to the community she grew up in.
"It's awful. They need to fix it," she said. "Will they have an opening for me? I don't know." Hundreds want their voice heard: Most urge Dover council to keep $46.9 school budget intact
DOVER — The line of those waiting to speak about the controversial budget proposed for Fiscal Year 2013 snaked in and out of the McConnell Center during Wednesday's public hearing...