Has the right to free expression without personal attack been lost? This writer is beginning to think so.
A recent letter to the editor outlined interesting facts about the local school budget request, which is almost 16 percent higher than last year’s request. An increase of this magnitude requires an override, that if passed, will affect the affordability of many residents on fixed or low incomes to remain in town. The schools are also asking for increases in future years higher than normal revenue growth, threatening the entire town’s financial sustainability.
Arthur Prest, a member of Groton’s Finance Committee and author of that letter, received ad hominem attacks from School Committee candidate, Marlena Gilbert. Ms Gilbert, who represents a group of parents pushing for these increases, took umbrage at Mr. Prest’s audacity to spell out the facts about this upcoming important ballot issue.
I am a lifelong friend of Mr. Prest. We both love this community and have worked hard to make it better. We worked closely to bring about the restoration of Groton’s largest water resource and helped to reconnect the community by pushing for the re-opening of Sargisson Beach on Knops Pond.
We fought for, and succeeded, thanks to the citizens of Groton, in extending fire protection to hundreds of homes in the most densely populated area of town, an area surrounded by dense forest and vulnerable to fire. This fire protection, contrary to what Ms. Gilbert writes, does not favor the few for the many. It is an affordable solution to a potential major loss of revenue for the town should we have a catastrophic fire, revenue that this cash strapped town can ill afford to lose. It certainly does not carry the burden the proposed school budget would impose.
Ms. Gilbert’s nasty personal attacks on an individual are totally misplaced. Rather than sit down and have a reasonable discussion over the facts surrounding the school budget, she makes a small-minded assault on the integrity of one of the town’s best minds. You do not have to have a PhD in an educational field to analyze a budget. Mr. Prest has had years of professional management and budget analysis experience. You could not find a better example of a person who wants to help the community, not tear it down. He is highly intelligent, honest and motivated. He wants to be fair to everyone and he is not afraid to point out wrong-headedness when it occurs.
Ms. Gilbert states in her letter, “I would argue that we do not have any individuals on our Board of Selectman or Finance Committee that are qualified to provide an analysis of what our schools need.”
I would pose the same question to the School Committee about the debacle that occurred a few years ago when a $2,400,000 shortfall came to light. Who was minding the store? Who is accountable? The School Committee, the School Administration or both?
Ms. Gilbert characterizes Mr. Prest’s letter as poisonous. His fact-finding may seem poisonous to her, but oversight for a budget item that impacts everyone in town is essential.
While our municipal departments claw their way forward to add a piece of equipment, an extra cop or a highway employee, the School Committee comes up with a budget that shows no concern for how it will impact the rest of the town.
The Finance Committee worked hard to trim the municipal budget to accommodate the school’s requests. As a result, the municipal budget’s proposed increase is less than 1 percent.
Educating America’s children is paramount to keeping this country strong. State support has been waning and every town in the Commonwealth has similar budget problems.
Personal attacks are counterproductive. Working together to solve problems, seems a much more beneficial and civil approach.