By Alex Thomsen
There are obviously lots of emotions around the decision regarding the middle school. We have heard from many community members about their thoughts, and I just wanted to take a moment to clarify my thinking. Last meeting we were asked to start shifting our leadership style away from a money-based process to a heart-based process, to stop spending so much time “attempting to solve budgeting problems” and to spend more time reading, consulting and talking to our community.
As a board member, I spend a lot of time in the community talking to people from all different walks of life – in the ice rink, on the sideline of the basketball court, the soccer field, the grocery store aisles and the school parking lot. I talk to the older generation of grandparents, as well as parents and other taxpayers. In Waterbury, there is one common theme that emerges – our taxes are not sustainable. This year, in Waterbury our voters are being asked to approve an 8 cent increase in education tax and a 4.4 cent town tax increase for a total of 12.4 cents.
Our education tax is now 5 cents higher than it was in 2016 premerger. Low- and middle-class families are simply not going to be able to stay in their homes. They will start leaving our district. So I want to be clear that when I am focused on the budget and the need to save money, this is also a heart-based process for me. I am thinking about the people in my town and how they will simply not be able to afford to stay here. Unfortunately, solving budget problems is something we have to do; it is not something we can ignore.
I know that people want more time to research, collect data, do more public engagement and talk more about other options for the middle schools. We simply do not have that luxury of time. As a board, we need to take some steps to show our communities that we understand the financial stress they are under and are willing to make hard decisions. We desperately need to do work in the high school and we cannot ask our voters to pass a bond without first showing them we are trying to save them some money.
Thomsen is one of Waterbury’s representatives to the Harwood Unified Union School District Board.