February 9, 2014

Editorial: Get involved now in school budgets

Schools will pass their 2014-15 budgets in May. Don’t wait until then to let them know what you want and don’t want included.

It takes months of work to put together a spending plan that will cover all the needs of a school district, so boards around the North Country are already getting started on that.

It is essential that school board members do everything they can think of to encourage public input right from the start.

If some board members think it’s a pain to have to listen to taxpayer opinions now, they should consider how much more arduous it might be to deal with a budget defeat. That is the ultimate way for taxpayers to make their dissatisfaction known.

The smartest school districts put together what they call “stakeholder” committees to vet budget issues. The very best of these panels will be populated by representatives of everyone touched by district spending: parents, senior citizens, students, teachers, staff and athletes.

Peru Central is a good example of a district that works to get public input, through a variety of channels, including committees, forums, extensive handouts at board meetings and their Clear Vision community meetings. Plattsburgh City School District has tried to involve stakeholders through community forums for the past two years. Other districts in the area are reaching out, as well.

It makes a great deal of sense to seek out district residents — even critics of spending — and get them involved. People can learn more about all the mandates, restrictions, funding sources and challenges that influence a school budget. As they work together with board members to scrutinize spending, they may even come up with innovative ways to tackle problems.

As far as taxpayers doing their part, the most direct route to sharing your opinion is to attend school-board meetings and tell district officials in person.

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