Room for improvement and professionalism
- Categorized in: Opinion
To The Editor
Like virtually everyone else in Lunenburg, I have been concerned with the impact of the potential Prop 2-1/2 override. In the interest of trying to determine where we are and how we arrived here, I undertook some research that I’d like to share before offering my perspective.
In looking at the Department of Revenue Web site. http://www.mass.gov/dor/local-officials/municipal-data-and-financial-management/data-bank-reports/proposition-2-12.html, there are a number of years dating back to 1985 (the start of the spreadsheets available, where Lunenburg had not taken the full, allowable annual 2-1/2% tax levy. The total “left on the table” during that period was just under $2.27 Million. Most notable are the years between 1998 and 2006 where almost $1.75 million of that number was not taken.
A review of the history of overrides at the same site reflects that overrides have been proposed ten times since 1984 and were approved three times, most recently in 1996, just prior to the start of the aforementioned 8 year period during which the taxes levied fell well short of the dollars available. The following is a composite of the tables that may be found at the DOR web site:
Another interesting site is the Department of Education web site. http://profiles.doe.mass.edu/profiles/finance.aspx?orgcode=00000000&orgtypecode=0&
A review of this site will yield the following information about Lunenburg schools:
Lunenburg ranks 49th of 328 municipalities (14.9th percentile) in the commonwealth in per pupil expenditures. In other words, 279 municipalities (85.1%) spend more per pupil in education than does Lunenburg. Lunenburg’s cost per pupil is shown as $10720 and the state wide average cost per pupil is shown as $13,055.
In standardized testing, Lunenburg is shown as having 80% of students at the proficient level In English/Language Arts VS the statewide average of 69% and 70% in Mathematics VS the state wide average of 58%.
The student teacher ratio in Lunenburg is 16.1:1 VS the statewide average of 13.9:1.
Like so many others, one of my concerns is the impact of increasing tax levies on senior citizens and others who are at fixed incomes. There are a number of web sites available with information about property tax exemptions available for seniors in Massachusetts. One of them is http://massrealestatenews.com/massachusetts-property-tax-relief-for-seniors/. In addition to outlining several exemptions that may be available to seniors, this article also discusses the theory and principals behind the assessed (tax) value of residential properties and the impact of the quality of a town’s school system on its desirability.
“When you look at why property values are higher in one town over another it usually boils down primarily to two factors; the location and the school systems rating. With great schools come a larger tax burden.”
So, where does all of this lead me?
It tells me the following:
Until recent years, there were a number of years when Lunenburg opted not to take all, or nearly all, of the maximum 2-1/2% levy that was allowable. In 1996, the Town had its back against the wall, particularly relative to HS accreditation, and was forced to approve an override. Unfortunately, in the years following that, large sums of money were “left on the table” which, arguably, played a significant role in leaving the Town where it is today; in need of a $2.2 million override. (Coincidentally, the amount needed is almost exactly the total amount of taxes that were not levied since 1985 exclusive of inflationary factors or the interest that may have been accrued had those dollars been placed in reserve.) Perhaps during those years, Town Leaders believed that they were acting in the best interest of their concerned constituency by easing the individual tax burden. In retrospect, it may be that they were mortgaging the Town’s future. (“Pay me now or pay me later.”)
Our school system has been much maligned by some who feel that our teachers are overpaid, underworked and whining. Perhaps those who articulate those sentiments should yield the advice contained in the article on page 3 of the current, May, 2012 edition of the AARP Bulletin entitled “Obstacles and Obligations”. The article suggests that we are better served by checking reliable sources of information, rather than listening to those who agree with us before making (uninformed) decisions.
The information found at the aforementioned DOE website suggests that the Lunenburg School System is having a significantly better result in student performance than the state average while expending 15% less per pupil than the average and despite having over 2 students per teacher more than the average. (The ratio of teachers to pupils in reflect the 2010 – 2011 school year and have gone up in Lunenburg in the current school year.) Lunenburg teachers have been working without a contract since the end of the previous school year and continue to provide a high quality education that is a major source of attracting families to the community and stabilizing property values. For those who believe that teachers work from 8 AM to 3 PM, 180 days of the year, I would suggest that they research the actual days and hours that a committed professional educator expends. The job has become so demanding in so many respects that many no longer desire to move into the profession. Hence, the well documented countrywide shortage of teachers. See: http://www.careerinfonet.org/oview2.asp?from=National&Level=BAplus&soccode=&stfips=
I have lived in Luneburg for over 23 years and am pleased with, what I view as, an increased professionalism by the Select Board and by the leadership of our current CAFO. I believe that there is room for improvement and increased professionalism on one or more of the Town’s other Boards. However, after reviewing all of the information mentioned herein, it is clear to me that the Town must move forward with this over ride, and the five year plan that it contemplates, and must continue to take the necessary steps to increase our revenues and tax base through prudent, well placed expansion that maintains the desirable rural profile of the community while keeping pace with changes and commitments that are ongoing. I plan to vote YES. Having said that, I urge you to do your homework, think for yourself, consider all of the pluses and minuses for both sides and, whichever way that you vote, have your vote be the result of responsible, objective analysis rather than of unsubstantiated subjective rhetoric and misinformation. Do not focus exclusively on the 12% increase in taxes and consider it to be an expense. Rather, take pride in what we have been able to accomplish, relative to other communities, and focus on what the investment in the Town of Luneburg will mean now and in the future.
Michael G. Barbier
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