This post was featured as an opinion editorial in the Union Leader on Oct-5-2021.
In the Halloween movie franchise, the antagonist, Michael Myers, is “killed” no fewer than 128 times in 11 films made over the course of 44 years (1978-2022). Of course, he never truly dies. You know it. I know it. Everyone in the audience knows it. And yet there is seemingly an endless supply of moviegoers who willingly suspend disbelief one more time to keep hope (and profits) alive.
This year, Manchester watched its own Halloween franchise play out in the form of the school district charter question. Granting the school district its own taxing authority is at least as scary as Michael Myers and even less likely ever to die. With each apparent death, taxpayers were inevitably startled by another resurrection. Last week, the latest movie in the Manchester School District Tax franchise came to a merciful end after multiple aldermen flipped their support and sent the apparition into another inter-episode hibernation.
But make no mistake. As surely as Michael Myers will return to the movie screen, so too will the specter of the Manchester School District being granted the authority to tax you to death. If you allow me to mix movie metaphors for a moment, it’s only “mostly dead.”
But why are Mayor Craig and so many board members insistent on keeping this franchise alive? It’s because their goal is not to maximize the education of Manchester’s students but rather to maximize the funding of education. As Manchester’s student population continues its precipitous drop due to demographic changes and parents increasingly taking advantage of charter schools, education freedom accounts, and homeschooling, the special effects required to maintain the public narrative over school funding are getting harder and harder to pull off. The real cost (i.e. inflation-adjusted) per pupil in Manchester has increased 49% since 2009. MSD spending increased an eye-watering 12% in just one year (2021-2022), shelling out more than $200M. The city’s entire public safety budget, by comparison, is just shy of $57M, and the highway department budget is a little over $19M. As you navigate the pothole-ridden side streets of Manchester, remember that the school district’s budget is ten times that of the highway department’s.
Is it reasonable to believe that it’s 50% more expensive to educate a child today than it was in 2009? With all of the wonderous technology advances and the very smart experts who advance our understanding of how to educate children, shouldn’t the cost be going down? And with this mercurial increase in spending, couldn’t we at the very least expect the quality to increase? A quick peek inside the utter mismanagement of the district by its board and administration reveals why they can’t be fiscally trusted to run a lemonade stand, never mind a nearly quarter of a billion-dollar organization. And the proficiency scores are gorier than any Halloween slasher movie.
Despite promising not to do so, the majority of the federal COVID funds received by the district are going to fund salaries and benefits, not one-time expenditures as they should. The BOMA also recently forgave $2.8M of a $3.2M loan made 10 years ago to purchase textbooks. The COVID money could have been used to repay the taxpayers but instead went mostly to teacher salaries.
There’s a Geico television commercial that mocks protagonists in slasher movies for reliably making dumb choices that lead to their own demise. Last week, the BOMA wriggled its way out of one more climactic encounter with Michael Myers. Rest assured, the franchise will be back with yet another sequel and the very same antagonist.