After a May vote to hold the line on taxes and spending that would have led to 23 staff layoffs, the Plum School Board made a sharp U turn and approved a budget June 26th that raises taxes and uses nearly a million dollars of its reserves in order to save most of the jobs previously slated for elimination. All this with no concessions from the union. Remember the principal causes of the budget crisis are the additional million dollars or so required for teacher pensions and the cost of living increases for teachers.
The board has done what governing bodies have done for years: kick the can down the road. Assuming the pension payment is about the same next year and teacher cost of living increases are about the same, the budget shortfall will be back. Only next year the reserves will be too low to allow another million dollars to be tapped to close the shortfall. Than will mean going to the state for an exception to the allowable tax rate hike or a referendum to ask for permission to boost taxes for a second straight year. Alternatively, but highly unlikely, they might decide it is time to make the staff reductions needed to prevent more tax hikes.
One thing is for sure: as long as they are taking guidance from the union and the students who do not have to pay the bills, the board will keep making bad decisions that will come back to haunt them later. Leaving the May vote in place would have accomplished two important things. It would have dealt fairly with taxpayers and precluded next year’s budget angst. Secondly, it would have sent a strong signal to the union that the board will be very hardnosed at the next round of contract talks.
One thing we have learned in recent years is that school boards operate by and large on the dictates of the teacher unions. This episode proves once gain how powerful the union is and how little taxpayers are considered when spending and taxing decisions are made.
Plum taxpayers (and others across the state) will now begin to learn the reality of the underfunded pension mess as it appears the state is in no mood to make the serious reforms that will reduce the unfunded liabilities.