This is a response to Ms. Silverstein's recent Town Square article regarding the new budget being built for our school district. Ms. Silverstein has made the assertion that the +3% increase in salaries recently approved "will not amount to a large part of the budget challenge." While I agree with the next statement – that this increase is deserved – ignoring the cost of this increase is irresponsible.

Based upon the 13th slide of the March 20 budget presentation, the 3.5% increase in salary costs is the single largest appropriation increase in the new budget. This is no surprise given that salaries represent our largest cost. It should be further noted that a 3.5% increase in a line item representing 61% of the budget yields an increase of 2.14% in the entire budget. That is: this alone consumes more than the revenue increase we’re permitted by the state cap. That revenue increase will yield $2,509,971 while the salary increase alone will cost $2,885,970. This leaves less than nothing for inflation in other line items, even adding in the paltry increase in state aid.

How is this not a large part of the budget challenge?

We’ve already seen the need for unpleasant cuts in past budgets; this predicament is not new.  As the largest line item in the budget, staffing is the most vulnerable to reductions. It’s terrific that we can reward staff appropriately, but less so when we’re forced to reduce staff to do this. The “last in, first out” nature of any staff reductions will also undermine – or at least slow – our district’s efforts at improving diversity within our staff.

While we should all agree that the increase is deserved, there’s nothing to be gained by refusing to see a mathematical truth: we’ve committed to years of +3% salary growth with only 2% revenue growth. This is not sustainable.

Something must ultimately give way to this truth. Either we’re committing to a future of deficits and cuts – cuts that cannot avoid hitting staffing, our single largest cost – or we must find a path out of this plight. As Ms. Silverstein notes, “you cannot spend more than you bring in.” Perhaps it is time to turn our attention to that 2% cap.

Andrew Gideon