When the Matanuska Susitna Borough Assembly unanimously approved a 350 thousand dollar appropriation for the Mat Su School District two weeks ago, it was all part of an amiable budget process that finished with a lowered mill rate and no cuts to services. The extra money for the School district was to help pay for the district’s pre- school program, even though Assemblyman Matthew Beck, who sponsored the appropriation, said that the school district was under no restriction on how it could use the funds. Almost immediately, Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss expressed misgivings, and within two days, he announced his veto of that line item in the 2015 Borough budget. Tuesday night, DeVilbiss addressed the audience
“I felt like, if for no other reason, we should have dialogue on this before it just slides by. So, and I would remind you, the primary issue is not about the merits of pre-K education, it’s about whether your neighbors should be paying for it.”
But many parents of pre-schoolers, like Michelle Reynolds, want the money put back in the budget.
“As a taxpayer, I would pay it. And I believe that there are so many people that would be willing to pay it. Because for once, we need our taxes to go to something that finally will give back in the future. And that’s what I look at from here: give you my taxes, give you my money, because it’s our children, it’s our future. “
The veto came up for an override Tuesday night, and people lined up to speak in support of the Widening the Net program, which brings pre- kindergarden education into selected Borough schools. Chris Hines said having the program in Borough schools is the only way he and his wife can afford quality preschool for their child:
“Both of us work full time, and we spend as much time as possible teaching our kids. But we are not qualified for any pre-K program, in terms of assistance. And we can’t afford one, to be quite honest. So this was our only opportunity to get her in any sort of pre-kindergarden learning”
And teacher Kelly McBride recited well known statistics in favor of early childhood education:
“Research informs us that students who attend high quality pre-school are more likely to succeed, not only in school, but to graduate from high school, attend college or post secondary training. They’re more likely to make healthy life-style choices. We can either invest in children early, or we can pay later, in the form of special education, high school dropouts, unemployment, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and prison costs.”
But it takes five votes to override the veto, and few of the comments in support of the pre-school program addressed the tax issue. Assemblyman Ron Arvin said he’d support the veto, because the request for the 350 thousand dollars did not come from the school district, but Assemblyman Steve Colligan laid it on the line : He said, it’s the school board’s job to manage the school district budget, not the Assembly’s
“Last year was 80 percent of your home property tax went to the school district and buildings and sustaining that. And yes, there’s less and less money, but statewide, it’s a tough year this year. We have directed the manager this year for a flat budget, or one percent growth. We funded the school district at three percent growth out of savings. I think it’s within the school district board, the administration and the board’s power, to make this a priority. To shave the hair off the peach here for zero point one three percent. It’s their responsibility. “
In the end, the vote to override fell one vote short, and the veto stays. Mayor DeVilbiss said afterward, that the Borough is not ready to step into non-compulsory education.