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Editorial: SB 2, property tax system turn Allenstown kids into victims

Children, parents and taxpayers in the Allenstown School District once again find themselves victims of two of New Hampshire’s most terrible traditions: SB 2 voting and the state’s long over-reliance on local property taxes.

SB 2 voting allows residents at poorly attended deliberative sessions to make mischief that can be endorsed by ill-informed voters at the polls and thereby turn carefully crafted municipal and school budgets into chaos. The overreliance on property taxes means that it takes a much greater effort for residents of property-poor towns to generate the revenue necessary to provide their children educational basics – and sometimes forces them into unconscionable decisions.

The fact that these two traditions are playing havoc with education in Allenstown should be a particular embarrassment to multiple New Hampshire legislatures and governors past and present. The community was one of the original plaintiffs in the long-ago Claremont education funding lawsuit – a lawsuit the state lost. Allenstown, Claremont and several other poor towns argued that funding public education largely through property taxes put their students at a distinct disadvantage. All these years later, that’s still the case.

Here’s what has happened in Allenstown in recent weeks: School officials put forth a $9.7 million school budget. But at the district’s annual deliberative session, a member of the budget committee suggested chopping $1 million off the bottom line. The fellow who proposed the cut didn’t suggest where the money might come from or what programs or staff members might be sacrificed – but he nonetheless won the support of a narrow majority of those at the meeting: 35-33 votes. That’s the budget that will now go to the voters next week.

And because Allenstown school voters operate under SB 2, they will be asked to vote at the polls – with no chance for the further discussion or deliberation possible at a traditional town meeting. Voters will see a big number and a smaller one and be asked to make a choice.

School officials say a budget cut that large will force the district out of compliance with state mandates – which could, in turn, cost the district even more money. Where would officials find $1 million? Among the likely victims: teachers of art, physical education, music and foreign language, a school resource officer, library and technology specialists. Field trips and sports teams would no longer be in the budget either. The harm would mostly affect younger children; the tuition to Pembroke Academy for high school students is set in stone.

Such cuts are damaging indeed. But in New Hampshire’s system of local governance, the needs of school children are regularly pitted against the inability or unwillingness of cash-strapped taxpayers to vote to raise their own taxes. One Allenstown resident told Monitor reporter Daira Cline that she was willing to see field trips and sports disappear; after all, she said, they’re not education.

Fortunately a third New Hampshire tradition is also at play in Allenstown: grassroots citizen activism. With luck, the parents and teachers now working to rally voters against the school budget cut will win the day.

We’re not experts on the Allenstown School District budget. It’s certainly possible that there are economies not yet dreamed up. But the process here is terribly reckless. And an indiscriminate $1 million cut can’t possibly do anything good for education.

Legacy Comments18

demographics do tell a story. Allenstown is one of the top towns in the state regarding the number of Mobile Homes

If there are state mandates, let the state pay for it.

What a joke. Only the CM would whine about being 'victims' of too much voting!!!! GASP! How about us victims of too many taxes? crickets

Not just Allenstown kids . . . these things turn kids in many NH communities into victims.

Yes, New Hampshire's beloved property tax system; where you must pay your full share of taxes even if you no longer have a job.

The beauty of NH is that it is an upwardly mobile state. If you work hard enough you can escape a welfare town and move to a town where the education is superior. The fact that you lack ambition and drive is not my problem, nor should I pay for it.

Because we all know that ALL people who are poor can become RICH and there are NEVER ANY extenuating circumstances . . .

No one is saying that there are NEVER any extenuating circumstances. But, the world is also not driven by extenuating circumstances and not all things are related to extenuating circumstances.

Liberals hate the cardinal rule of life - self responsibility

It's simply "responsibility" BPR - you don't need to add the "self" - it's implied. And where did I say I don't want people to be responsible?

That pretty much nailed it. What a pathetic, sad world we would live in if the me me, mine mine people like you were running it. Money has nothing to do with responsibility. People that work multiple jobs to get by are responsible. They are more responsible than those trust fund wonders that have had it handed to them. So making a connection between wealth and responsibility is just shows blatant ignorance

Honestly, you are talking in extremes. I am willing to help people who are struggling to help themselves. No issue with that but effort counts and no one is "mine, mine, mine", that is in your brain. No one minds helping the "truly" needy. Many people mind funding those who constantly depend on others without applying their god given talents to fend for themselves. I don't know one "trust fund" "wonder" personally. But what if they were given a "trust fund". Someone had the foresight to save that money and hand it on to them, just because your folks or mine did not do the same doesn't man that they are somehow greedy or not responsible. I have never in my lifetime heard so much jealousy out of people than I have over the last 8 years. Moreover, it is perpetuated by progressives and Democrats.

and of course quality education should be a function of wealth and geography. Sounds like you have embraced a new definition of the american dream...it is now morphed into "I've got mine Jack! PS..in this economy who is going to buy their house in this education deprived community so they can move to Bedford (no sale, no escape)

Funny that you mention "I've got mine Jack". That seems to be the attitude of all of these folks bragging about how much they are paying for health care under Obama, about all of the subsidies being given while others are seeing drastic increases in premiums, deductibles and are losing their plans to subsidize others. Many of those letter and column writers are ecstatic with no concern for those who are paying those subsidies and paying more for the insurance they have worked to have their whole lives. The subsidized are also acting like "I've go mine Jack".

Arnie might be interested to know Allenstown spends $4k more per student per year than Bedford..............http://www.education.nh.gov/data/documents/cost_pup12_13.pdf

...and at the end they all lived happily ever after.

"What you do for the least among you, you do for me" -JC

Nope...when 68 people turn out..Thats the problem. had the vote been the other way to increase the budget $2 million...the Monitor would have cheered it.

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