School ‘needs:' What's another $10 million?
On Saturday, the school board grudgingly passed a $152 million city school budget. Though that is more than $2 million larger than this year's school budget, board members were not pleased. Most wanted a $162 million budget - $12 million more than what the city spends on schools now.
Though that was a popular idea, the board split 7-7 on passing it after some members were persuaded that such a move would anger the aldermen, who might then cut the school budget below $152 million.
What we got instead was a pair of budgets: an official one at $152 million, and a $162 million proposal the board labeled a 'needs budget.' Both were passed and sent to the aldermen, who ought to reply with this request: Please define the word 'need.'
The $152 million budget stays within the city's spending cap. The 'needs budget' blows the cap away. But many school board members think that the schools are due a huge budget increase, and they don't really care about the cap. The city can cut police and fire protection to meet the cap, they reason. Never mind that police and fire personnel already have been cut to help make ends meet in recent years.
Many on the school board seem to have the idea that the school system is and ought to be a higher priority than all other city spending. This is the attitude bred by having a separate elected school board. Members often fail to understand that public schools are one priority among many, and all compete for limited resources.
That is the economic reality. When board members claim that a $12 million spending increase is a 'need,' taxpayers can legitimately question how connected to that reality some members really are.