To the Editor,
The squabbling over the MERSD budget is concerning. Several years ago, the residents of Essex and Manchester agreed to form a union—a regional school district—for the purpose of providing an excellent public education, from pre-school through the 12th grade, for the children of our communities.
There are problems with the contract that was signed by our communities. As stated in the budget for FY23: “The cost to each town of MERSD depends on three factors: budget (the amount of money the school district receives from sources other than the towns), and apportionment (the division of costs between the two towns).” Enrollment has been dropping for Manchester while enrollment for Essex has remained relatively steady. This has disproportionately shifted the annual increases to Essex more so than Manchester. Additionally, the district continues to lose students, but the budget continues to increase every year. The school year of 2019/2020 had 1317 students from our towns, and it is estimated that there are 1135 students for the school year 2023/2024.
Our public school district is a union, a community of students from two towns; two communities that joined as one for the purpose of educating the children of both towns. It is the taxpayers in both towns who pay for the public education of our children and school choice children from other towns. Public education directly benefits the number of children using the system. Every taxpayer in the district pays to support the MERSD district—even if these taxpayers do not have children in the school system.
We pay taxes to support public education because it is a common good: it is for the benefit of everyone, and strong schools do correlate to higher home values. The parents in our communities can choose to send their children to our public school—or not! But they will still pay taxes to support the public school system.
The cause of the squabbling over the MERSD budget is because the costs are not fairly distributed between the two towns. Manchester is a larger community. It has a larger tax base. The partner community, Essex, is a smaller community with a smaller tax base. Over the past few years, the cost increases to Essex have been higher than Manchester with some variability. We need a change to help deal with these fluctuations.
First, we need to look at the total taxes collected by each community. Then, we need to look at the total cost of operating the regional public school system from pre-school through the 12th grade. And, then the cost for our regional public education system should be distributed in a way that better takes into account each community’s tax base. The current budget contemplates a 3.4% increase with a 2.3% increase in apportionment to Manchester and a 5.3% increase to Essex – and Essex may be faced with another override, all while enrollment is dropping.
As we have learned, the number of students enrolled in a public school system can vary greatly, but the tax bases of our communities are what support the entire system. If we want to stop the squabbling and arguing, we need to sign a new—fair—contract. One that is financially equitable for BOTH communities—one that better manages the apportionment of expense to each town.
I know that our communities want this regional public school system to work for all of us, but under the current contract, the two towns are unevenly yoked (to use an old-fashioned term). We must work together to write a new fairer contract—one that better distributes the costs between the two communities. The Essex community cannot continue to bear the costs currently imposed on it based on the current formula in the MERSD system. I urge our leaders to please consider drawing up a new contract.
As a former resident of Manchester as well as a graduate of the Manchester public school system, I am saddened that we are putting a greater financial burden on Essex.
Thank you for hearing me out.
Karin M. Gertsch, Essex