Columns

Column: Carefully considering school budgets

For the second time in a few years, the Shelter Island Board of Education considered a proposal to eliminate use of Indians as team names and mascots. This time, the Board opted to change the name to an as yet unidentified alternative.

Intelligent arguments have been made on both sides of the issue prior to the recent decision. But a suggestion that the decision could impact voters next May when the 2021-22 budget is at stake is concerning.

Throughout the year, there will be decisions the Board of Education makes, which some will agree with and others will oppose.

But holding the budget hostage to a single decision is failing to recognize who will be affected by rejecting a school budget — the students.

With more than 25 years covering education in New England and New York, I have witnessed arguments about school budgets. But experience has taught me the time to evaluate the school budget is during work sessions aimed at creating that budget.

It’s important to pay attention to what is being proposed to include or eliminate. That is the time to make your case for or against specific items.

By law, the district must either pass a budget on the first or second vote or eliminate items dictated not by local residents, but by the New York State Department of Education. The state provides structure for what has to be included or cut.

Handing such decisions to state mandates rather than local concerns sets a dangerous precedent. School system officials who have twice had budget proposals rejected by voters in past years can attest to the reality that recovery from such action often takes years and affects the education of students during that recovery.

This isn’t a plea to endorse a budget with which you disagree. But make your decision next May about the budget after voicing your concerns with what’s in or out of that budget. If you absolutely object to the budget, vote “no.” But don’t make that decision on a single issue with which you disagree.

And if you strongly object to how the Board of Education is functioning, consider running for a seat or at least paying close attention to overall actions of the members and voicing your concerns throughout the year.

Your students are watching and depending on your informed decision on the budget and the Board of Education.