To the Editor:
Now that it appears as if the Monroe school budget has finally been set, it is appropriate to comment on why the process was taken away from the taxpayers of Monroe, and give credit to the groups that paved the way for the schools to open in late August, namely the education professionals of Monroe who voluntarily shouldered the financial burden necessary to stop the flow of funds out of the already underfunded school system.
In January, the Board of Education agreed on a lean budget that was acknowledged as meeting the basic requirements to provide a full and adequate education to all of the students in Monroe. This came after an exhaustive line by line analysis that consumed many hours of meeting time.
Immediately after reaching an agreement as to the minimum amount necessary to provide for the system, the board slashed its own figure by $500,000 to make the number more palatable to the selectman, the board of finance, and the taxpayers who would ultimately vote on the overall budget.
Yet with the advent of the pandemic crisis, and the imposition of executive orders by the governor, the referendum, by which the electorate could have most clearly expressed its view of the budget, was cancelled, and the selectman and the board of finance were given extraordinary powers to impose their budget without the benefit of direct democratic oversight.
This led to the selectman reducing the Board of Education number by another $500,000 before the Board of Finance was given its opportunity to make even deeper cuts to a budget that was already threadbare.
Despite overwhelming support for no further cuts being expressed at the board’s public meeting on the matter (over 40 statements in support of no additional education cuts against 4 in favor of further reductions), the Board of Finance made another cut of over $1,000,000.
The board’s rationale seems to have been that if all town workers agreed to a wage freeze, everything would be fine. This is despite the fact that the concept of a wage freeze on the education side had been explicitly rejected twice before, beginning when the request was first made the previous fall (before the pandemic was an issue).
Rather than do the right thing, and act in a prudent manner to safeguard the integrity of the town’s award winning school system, the town hall politicians opted to don their patrician hats and, without fear of being rebuked by the voters, they opted for a budget that preserved the mill rate rather than preserved the school system.
Every real estate broker in town knows that young families, the lifeblood of every community, move to Monroe for its excellent school system and the recreational, athletic and cultural benefits that stem from the schools. Those families are the source of growth, and the decision to gut the Board of Ed budget sends a chilling message about the town’s priorities.
Faced with a bleak future with cancelled programs, diminished remediation services, and overcrowded classrooms at every level, the education unions, the teachers, the administrators, and others, took it upon themselves to find a way to stop the bleeding.
After frank discussions and polling in which nearly the entire membership of the Monroe Education Association participated, the teachers approached the board about offering furlough days. The administrators followed suit.
Ultimately an unprecedented agreement was made by which those professionals who toil daily to make the school district the success it is voluntarily gave back hundreds of thousands of dollars to save positions and programs that once lost, would probably not be replaced. Each of these professionals is sacrificing thousands of dollars, and facing tax increases in the towns where they reside, to keep the Monroe school system afloat.
So keep this in mind when school opens this fall. Thank the teachers and administrators for the hard work that they do, especially this fall under the ever changing circumstances they face, and thank them for stepping up in this time of overzealous cost cutting.
Thank all the others who work in our schools, whose actions also helped to preserve the safe and nurturing environment that has produced so many graduates who have gone on to productive lives, including many who still make their homes in this town.
Also make sure you vote this fall. Make sure you are being heard by the politicians who control so much of what happens in Monroe, and consider carefully which of the representatives on the town boards truly represents your values.
President, Monroe Education Association