By S.D. Plissken | February 26, 2019
The Milton Meet the Candidates night went forward as planned. The winter storm had largely dissipated by late afternoon. High winds followed.
As for the presentations, they were … interesting.
They certainly revealed some differences between candidates, which may be helpful, but, sadly, more often than not they revealed differences between the candidates and reality.
Candidates for the School Board – Two Three-Year Seats
The candidates were incumbent Ms. Melissa J. Brown, challengers Ms. Emily Meehan, Mr. Carter Wentworth Terry, and write-in candidate Mr. Alfred “Mr. Al” Goodwin.
I usually stay away from school issues, although they are certainly the tax elephant in the room.
Many of the same issues that plague the Town are also affecting the School District. However, the School District has been generally more prudent than the Town in terms of the rate at which their demands increase. They have even returned overages. It is still too much.
Who Owns You?
Mr. Brown definitely “put the stick about a bit” when he asked for opinions about a bill before the legislature. It would allow for state grant money to be redirected – on a per pupil basis – to alternative vendors, such as charter schools, parochial schools, technical schools, etc. None of the candidates, including the former homeschooler, favored this purely theoretical proposition. Nor did much of the audience.
Both the candidates and some in the audience made it sound as if Milton-resident students somehow “belong” to the School District. No one should be permitted to study elsewhere and, thereby, take “our” state tax money with them. Astonishing, really.
Escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass once spoke to this conception:
I appear this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them.
Does the Milton School District “own” the students? Does it “own” State money set aside for them?
One woman asked about school accreditation. Was it true that Milton’s schools are not accredited? I looked into this accreditation issue myself some years ago. It seems that many, if not most, of New Hampshire’s schools are not accredited. It has more to do with infrastructure failings then academic ones. Which makes one wonder about the accreditation process.
Low test scores were also queried and not easily explained. Milton ranks near the bottom of statewide test scores and has for many years. In some years it has “won” the race to the bottom.
The candidates seemed to be agreed, to a great extent, that standardized testing is of doubtful value and legitimacy. According to them, they deform education by causing teachers “to teach to the test.” I have heard this argument many times over many years. Samples of prior years’ tests are publicly available, and seem to be pretty basic reading, ‘riting, and ‘rimatic. “Teaching to the test” should not fall much out of alignment with just plain teaching.
These “teaching to the test” arguments may not be as persuasive or comprehensive as some seem to think.
There is another explanation available, which comes from the business world: “Project teams detest progress reporting because it so vividly manifests their lack of progress.”
Meanwhile, Milton is paying about a quarter over the state average on a per pupil basis. So, insufficient expenditure can hardly be the sole explanation.
Where Does It End?
Several members of the audience asked if there was some upper limit to constantly rising school taxes. Will there finally come a day when there is “enough” – some high plateau where we might rest? Or must the increases go on forever?
For most of the candidates, this seemed to be genuinely a “poser.”
Evidently, an upper limit is a difficult concept. Sort of like: what lies outside the universe, or when was before time? And therein lies a problem, because there is such a limit.
Why are such expenditures never enough? Because of marginal utility. The first dollar spent might bring more than a dollar’s worth of utility, as might the second, and so on. Each additional expenditure is at the leading “margin” of an increasing sequence. But, and this is the point, somewhere in the sequence the value returned is less than the dollar spent. As one proceeds further out in the sequence, the value returned for each additional dollar spent becomes smaller and smaller. This is what is meant by the term “diminishing marginal returns.”
Once the point of diminishing returns has been reached, each additional dollar provides less value than the one spent before it. Eventually, it will bring no additional value at all.
Now, compare the expenditure of that next dollar – that expenditure that brings diminished returns – with the tax dollar extracted from a struggling taxpayer. You propose to take money from a new family setting out in life, or a pensioner struggling on a fixed income. (Businesses might struggle too). For them, that dollar is still returning value – mortgage, groceries, heat, etc. You propose to take dollars from where they have value still – productive value – and spend them where the value is diminishing, or even gone altogether.
Are you really so sure that you are making the world a better place by taking that next dollar?
So, for the School Board candidates: the answer was “yes.” We will arrive at a place where the next dollar is just wasted. There is such a place. (Some might say that we arrived there quite some time ago).
You need to know that, in order to represent us, you must justify each additional dollar spent as bringing increased value, rather than diminishing value.
Town of Milton. (2018, February 24). Meet the Candidates Night (School Committee). Retrieved from youtu.be/nOmRUcqTf08?t=271
Wikipedia. (2019, January 27). Marginal Utility. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marginal_utility