O P I N I O N
Stand up. Speak up. It’s your turn.
This year I watched the School Board and the Board of Aldermen haggle over whether to spend the entire amount the state allocated to the schools or just spend part of it and use the rest for tax relief. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (The more things change the more they stay the same). I’ve lost count of how many budget hearings I have been to where I had the exact same argument with the BMA.
Maybe it is time we reconsider our reliance on property taxes to fund everything.
It was 25 years ago that my daughter started first grade at McDonough School. At the time the school did not have the best reputation, but I was committed to sending my children to public school. I always said that if the school wasn’t good enough for my kids it wasn’t good enough for anyone’s kids and it was my responsibility to fix it.
Over the next 20 years I did everything I could think of. I volunteered in the classroom, I bought wrapping paper, I served on the PTA, I helped organize the Manchester Coalition for Quality Education, and I served on the school board. Now I’m watching a new generation of concerned parents do the exact same thing. And yet, we continue to struggle.
I am very grateful to Andru Volinsky for his work on the Claremont school funding lawsuits. When that money arrived it made a significant difference in my children’s education. It really was the only thing that did. Class sizes decreased, we bought new textbooks, and my son was able to get OT services when it became clear he was having a hard time with writing.
The only problem is that the state education funding comes from the Statewide Education Property Tax, another property tax. Over the last 20 years property values have risen into the stratosphere and people’s tax bills have continued to go up. Commercial property values, on the other hand, haven’t risen at the same rate. That means that more and more of the tax burden has shifted to residential property owners.
I’m old enough to remember Meldrim Thomson. I remember his “No New Taxes” signs with the little yellow smiley face. He was elected Governor when I was in high school and defeated when I was in college. That was a long time ago.
We have been making our way down this rabbit hole for more than 40 years. Manchester reached the end of the tunnel a while ago, but now we have lots of company. Because of our adherence to “The Pledge,” communities up and down the state are having a hard time funding their schools. That means that a lot of New Hampshire kids will never become the people they are destined to be, and that is a shame.
I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that we are well past the time when we can fix this by fiddling around at the edges. We need to have hard conversations about where our revenue comes from. How do we fund our schools so every child in New Hampshire can become a successful adult regardless of where they live? How do we ensure that the elderly aren’t driven from their homes by high property taxes?
The only person I know who is willing to take this on is Andru Volinsky. He knows how important it is and he will not be swayed by polls or unflattering editorials. He is committed and tenacious and that is exactly what is needed right now. I hope you will join me and vote for him on September 8.
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Kathy Staub is a former At-Large member of the Board of School Committee and community contributor for the Inklink.