My Turn: Hopkinton should be fighting for its schools

For the Monitor
Published: 6/27/2020 6:20:11 AM

In her June 10 “My Turn” column, Judi Case stated that “there is a sea change happening in Hopkinton.” I beg to differ.

Rather, what happened is that at a socially distanced drive-thru voting session on May 16, voters did not approve the school board’s proposed budget nor any of a series of proposed amendments to cut the budget by amounts ranging from $416,331 to $1,883,286. One of the failed amendments was the so-called “flat budget,” which provided for no increase over last year’s budget.

At a voting session two weeks later, voters also rejected a revised budget proposed by the school board that was $343,635 lower than their original proposed budget.

Is this a “sea change” in Hopkinton? I don’t think so. I believe it is an unfortunate outcome that is the result of a misguided effort to oppose any increase in the school budget under the false proposition that the proposed budget was bloated, and that Hopkinton’s residents were being asked to pay more than they should for the education of our youth.

Contrary to what was being stated, our school boards have not been proposing annual school budgets that were carelessly and irresponsibly spending money in our schools.

What is noteworthy about Hopkinton’s spending is that our cost per student is right in the middle of what comparable districts spend per student. Our expenditures are average! And in return for an “average” school budget, Hopkinton’s schools are consistently ranked at or near the top in quality of education that is provided. That is a remarkable tribute to our teachers, support staff, and administration.

The original school board budget that was approved by the budget committee, at $21,416,331, would have an impact on our tax rate of approximately $1.15 per thousand. For the median house assessed value in Hopkinton, approximately $282,000, that equates to a tax increase of $325. That is $6.25 a week. Half the homes in town would be looking at an increase that is less than that.

Is that an onerous increase? Given that about 80% of our school budget is people, reasonable annual increases in the budget to maintain what we are doing should be expected. The cost of living goes up each year. The cost of health insurance goes up every year. These increases are unavoidable unless you think the right thing to do is to continually cut the quality of our schools to offset them.

As Hopkinton residents, we need to think about what these cuts will mean to our schools.

Every cut will have an impact. The board needs to make clear what each cut will mean to our schools, specifically. Clearly, we can’t get there without cuts to our academic programs, special education programs, and athletic programs. Is that the right thing to do? I would submit that it is wrong and irresponsible. As a town, we have a collective responsibility to educate our children. We have done it well, for a reasonable cost, in the past, and we should continue to do so in the future.

In closing, I must return to Judi Case’s column. Judi talks about what she refers to as a “fear of change.” We’re not talking about a fear of change. What she sees is a concern that our excellent schools are going to be ravaged by irresponsible budget cuts. Many people are understandably upset by that.

Hopkinton’s schools are something we can all be immensely proud of. There are wonderful and vitally important things going on inside them. Let’s not start down the road to destroying that.

(John C. Madden lives in Hopkinton.)

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