Academic argument

Some members of Southwest Harbor’s Warrant Committee have proposed a drastic $174,000 reduction in the town’s education budget. According to Chairman Nancy Weingarten, the purported reason is “to make a statement about holding the line.”

While all property taxpayers can sympathize with the idea of keeping any proposed tax increases to a minimum, this particular committee recommendation sounds decidedly arbitrary. School officials note that cutting that much, which amounts to about 5 percent of the budget, would result in education being flat-funded for the third year in a row. While that might sound like music to budget-cutting ears, sooner or later, year after year of belt tightening only pushes the problem down the road to a time when a much larger increase will be required, all at once.

And targeting much of that decrease to come from the special education account, as some committee members recommend, could put the town at risk of violating federal law. According to school officials, this year’s proposed budget increase includes an additional $123,000 in special education costs. The federal government mandates that students with special needs must be accommodated. When the number of students or severity of handicaps increases, the school has little choice but meet those needs. Requesting justification for any increase is appropriate. But determining the level of special education support needed usually is beyond the general public’s area of expertise. In the end, voters must depend upon the judgment of the educators they have employed to manage their schools prudently and properly.

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