Budget slashing is not necessary

Milford school officials, like those in the Wilton-Lyndeborough district, have decided to put full-day kindergarten on the March town warrant in the hope that voters will see the importance of such a program and understand that what appears to be a fairly minimal tax impact is worth a “yes” vote.

As we said in last week’s editorial about Wilton’s plan, we are not always in favor of the “let the voters decide” mantra, because too often the people who go to the polls, or to town and school meetings, in March base their decisions upon money rather than the value of something. We feel that’s what voters in Milford did in defeating plans – twice – to expand the Wadleigh Memorial Library, essentially saying that a library isn’t a town priority, which we think is short-sighted.

Short-sighted, too, would be a vote against full-day kindergarten, something it appears that Milford School Board member Len Mannino saw when, after hearing from Milford teachers and administrators about the importance of kindergarten, he changed his vote from nay. Good for him – he listened and made a decision based upon new and further knowledge.

But board member Bob Willette essentially made our point about money being the primary issue in the minds of many voters. Willette, who had voted against putting full-day kindergarten on the ballot, also changed his vote, but his reasoning was different from that of Mannino. He still isn’t convinced that the program should be approved but voted to put it on the ballot to let voters make the decision. And he said when he goes to the polls in March, he will vote against it, at least in part because this year, he has received more emails from people concerned about the tax rate than ever.

But we are not talking about end-of-the world money. According to Superintendent Robert Marquis, the cost is estimated at $582,500, with some of that offset by state revene, including revenue from Keno.

We need to understand, though, that the Keno money is “estimated” and heavily dependent upon how many people think Keno is a worthy investment.

One somewhat concerning aspect of this, though, is the pledge from Board Chairman Ron Carvell that the board will work on tightening the budget so the cost of kindergarten has a minimal effect upon taxes. Doesn’t that give you pause? It does us. If there is room to tighten the budget, why not just tighten the budget regardless of kindergarten?

We think it’s because there really isn’t all that much tightening room. Our local officials do a good job of keeping spending down, so when the phrase “tighten the budget” pops up, we become concerned about the loss of important programs or the loss of jobs, and that is where we, and you, face a quandry.

Yes, kindergarten is incredibly important. It’s proven to give kids a leg up as they enter first grade, and not having full-day kindergarten has proven to be an impediment to kids moving up the grades. Indeed, teachers and administrators said that Milford children are falling behind many other districts. But we, and you, should hear more about what will fall to budget tightening – will the high school lose programs? Will the middle school lose a guidance counselor?

We absolutely are not saying to drop support for full-day kindergarten in lieu of losing other programs. We are saying that a relatively few cents on the tax rate is not worth doing budget-tightening harm to education.

We need full-day kindergarten in Milford, and in Wilton and Lyndeborough, and we need to be willing to pay for it without slashing other important programs.