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.
Our reporters have been to board meetings at every district in the area, and we can tell you for a fact that it is rare to find members of the general public in attendance.
There are a smattering of people across our region who show up consistently, but mostly, people go for a presentation involving their kids or because they have a specific area of concern. They attend one or two meetings and are never seen again.
It is up to board members to make both types of community members — the watchdogs and the occasional attendee — feel welcome and listened to.
And if you want to express your opinion and just can’t get yourself to meetings, you needn’t sit around and grumble about the decisions being made. You can still write letters or emails to the school board, in care of the district office, to share your views.
Everyone wants better schools; people just have differing opinions about what that constitutes and varying approaches on how to get there.
Communication, calm and fruitful debate and open minds — on the part of taxpayers and school officials — are the best ingredients for creating a successful budget.