Dear Superintendent Taymore and your team, Mayor Infurna, and elected members of the School Committee,
Over the last year, each of you put in hours upon hours of work to develop the Fiscal Year 2020 budget, including two budget scenarios - one with an override and one without. You worked tirelessly to make the case for why more resources were needed, and thanks to its passage, our schools are better positioned to deliver a well-rounded 21st century education to our children. Thanks to the foresight of our voters, we will be better able to accommodate increased enrollment, compensate our teachers more competitively and provide adequate staffing to create a more supportive environment in our schools. I’m excited by this opportunity to be proactive and innovative.
When I spoke with community members on both sides of the override conversation, one thing I heard over and over again was a desire for more accountability and transparency around our city’s revenues and expenses. From my vantage point as a City Councilor, the information was there — but it wasn’t always easy to find or easy to interpret. I look forward to working with all of you, as well as our colleagues in City Hall and on the City Council, to keep improving on how this information is made public. We can use narrative, comparative statistics, and thoughtful graphics to communicate this information more clearly, and we can provide citations for community members eager to dig into the details. I don’t expect all these changes will happen immediately or all within this budget cycle, but I believe these are critical goals for us to work towards.
A few of the bright spots in last year’s budget cycle were the efforts to provide narratives, year-to-year changes, and comparisons with other communities to help contextualize how we are doing as a city. I thought that the Superintendent’s budget narrative provided insight and detail that made interpreting the summary numbers much easier. On the city side of the budget, we got departmental narratives that helped us ask better questions and see how all the pieces fit together.
Residents have reached out to me to express their concern that these details have not yet been included with the FY2020 school budget proposal. This strikes me as a reasonable concern, and one that is within your power to address.
In preparation for this year’s two budget scenarios, Superintendent Taymore’s team prepared fact sheets about the different options available. It would be helpful to have similar information included in a narrative to accompany the proposed budget. Additionally, including comparisons to FY19 will help community members see where their override dollars are going. Tonight, I urge you to provide a detailed narrative to accompany this proposed budget as well as comparison information to help us contextualize it. If this means you cannot pass the budget tonight and need to hold an extra meeting this time next week, I ask that you consider doing so. I want us to start this new chapter on the strongest possible footing, and this information will give the community more confidence in how their tax dollars are being spent!
I am very excited and hopeful about where we are headed as a city. Thank you for your dedication to Melrose and thank you for considering my requests this evening.
City Councilor At Large
Manisha G. Bewtra, AICP
Melrose City Councilor At Large
Pronouns: she, her, hers