Editorial: Local Oversight and Regional Budgets

in Editorials/Turf Field

It’s simply unimaginable as part of the budget, anywhere in Connecticut, that a town employee could propose a $2.5 million project, with significant, ongoing and uncertain maintenance costs, as well as ten year replacement costs, and expect to plan and approve the project without early and broad public engagement, and without the promise of a townwide vote.

Whether or not a synthetic turf field is a good or bad idea for Lyme-Old Lyme schools, we’ll set aside for a moment. But let’s be clear — a good idea or not — everything about the decision-making process so far gives the lie to the notion that regionalism will necessarily offer efficiencies or solutions to tightening statewide budgets.

In an era of declining enrollments for most school districts, one wonders whether the promise of the minimum budget requirement has encouraged a simple disregard for the role of the public in overseeing its own schools and a great portion of its own tax dollars.

It’s of course not too late to get this project back on track, and we will defer to the judgement of local residents — if properly included in the process — on the soundness of the plans.

But a great start would be to acknowledge that public meetings for Region 18 schools — like any other public meeting in Lyme or Old Lyme — should be well publicized and should be included on town calendars. Agendas should be posted and generally distributed in advance. Minutes should be posted and distributed afterwards.

Contrary to comments made at its last meeting, the purpose of public engagement is not to “educate” the public, but to a great extent the other way around. That’s why meaningful engagement must be broad — rather than by invitation– and must come early in the process.

Furthermore, required or not, we would strongly encourage the Board of Education to include a referendum on the matter as part of the budget approval process, if for no other reason than to encourage the school district to endeavor to win a majority of public support.