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'Fully funded': Labeling a school budget

Manchester School Superintendent Thomas Brennan has to submit a budget for next year that keeps school spending below the city's voter-approved spending cap. School board members this month asked him to submit a second one that would "fully fund the Manchester district and meet state standards," as board member Art Beaudry's motion put it. Though this will not tell parents and taxpayers very much, it will provide a lovely opportunity for some political grandstanding.

That grandstanding has already begun. At the school board meeting two Mondays ago, member John Avard said, "We need to know what the number is that is going to keep us in compliance with state guidelines. We have to see what a fully funded budget looks like."

Board members who advocate spending more money love this game because they get to define the terms. By the definitions imposed by the board, the higher-spending budget will be "fully funded" and the one that complies with the voter-imposed spending cap will not be. It should be obvious that simply calling the higher budget "fully funded" does not make the lower budget a dereliction of the city's duties. But that is how the cap-compliant budget was portrayed this past year, and the same way it will be portrayed next year, as though the city can measure its commitment to students by raw budget numbers alone.

Ignored in this political exercise will be the assumptions made in the creation of the "fully funded" budget. By definition, the full funding will mean increasing employee compensation per the existing contracts. But the contracts are to be renegotiated next year. New contracts might allow the district to hire more personnel at a lower per-person cost.

The so-called "fully funded" budget also would not necessarily include things like shifting costs by finding corporate sponsors (approved this year by the school board), or cutting costs by finding more efficient ways of doing things.

Taxpayers should not fall for this rhetorical trick.


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