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Under the best of times there are those who challenge and question the priorities and decision making of local school districts. Arriving at a consensus regarding any proposed spending plan is difficult and far from a perfect science. In many districts including Southold, we have established a long-term strategy of examining spending, maintaining adequate reserves in general, and specifically planning for the future with the establishment of both a capital and repair reserve fund.
Not only does this last item bode well for a district’s credit rating, which lowers the cost of borrowing, it shields the taxpayer from future spikes in maintaining or replacing aspects of our physical plant by not having to bond for projects which in turn would drive up property taxes. In fact, this strategy helps to develop long term spending objectives that carefully adjust to changing enrollment cycle while at the same time maintaining program opportunities for our students.
Above all else Boards and school district administration generally strive to arrive at a balance. The needs of our community should always reflect the intention to afford our youth a quality education within the constraints and bounds of what we can afford. Schools are, and always will be, a people - intensive organization. This was true when many of our residents attended school, and it is still true today. Yes, it is also true that for anyone who walks the halls and classrooms of schools today that teaching and learning look different. The world has changed.
The 21st Century has ushered in a whole new set of challenges and opportunities to the way that we do business as well as the expectations for teaching and learning. Dating back to our founding fathers, education has been viewed as part and parcel to preparing our society for the demands and responsibilities of our democracy.
As Abraham Lincoln once said, “A child is a person who is going to carry on what you have started. He is going to sit where you are sitting, and when you are gone, attend to those things you think are important…He will assume control of your cities, states, and nations. He is going to move in and take control of your churches, schools, universities and corporations… The fate of humanity is in his hands…”
This is no less true in 2011. Even with the advent of technology (i.e. computers, distance learning, etc.) the need will always be there to guide and facilitate learning among a diverse range of abilities. Meeting the challenge of today’s learner is a matter of having teachers who are fully prepared, and fully engaged. We continue to work with neighboring school districts to share in the ongoing preparation of our teachers through joint staff development programs.
School districts entered this budget process with the prospect of declining State Aid, the need to address a multitude of State mandates that impact the cost of providing an education as well as increasing health care, and pension costs. Many of the mandates that are required of school districts have been well intentioned and added over a long period of time, but not fully funded. The majority of these mandates were simply not in existence during the 1940s and 1950s when many recall a simpler time in school.
Yes, we will have many more difficult decisions to make with respect to spending precious tax dollars in the coming years. A broader adjustment to efficiencies in the way that we render a sound basic public education will test the very nature of how school systems are organized and run. School budgets take time to develop. We have always welcomed the input of all residents in this process and we will continue to do so as we move forward.