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Westport 3/20

They say fools rush in where angels fear to tread, so I thought I'd jump into the current brouhaha over the school budget. Usually in this column I try to present the issues rather than argue one particular side, but on this issue I'll say up front that, burdensome as our taxes feel to us, I think we're getting good value for our money.

A comparison of our 2009-2010 school budget (about $5 million) with the budgets of the five other schools in the area of comparable size would seem to bear this out. Those schools are Willsboro, E'town-Lewis, Schroon Lake, Crown Point, and Keene. Two of them, Willsboro and E'town-Lewis, have slightly more students than we do, yet their budgets are far, far larger than ours-a budget increase of $2.5 to $3 million pays for only about 20-40 more students.

Even more dramatically, three of these schools (Schroon Lake, Crown Point, and Keene) have smaller student bodies than ours but significantly larger budgets. One of them, Schroon Lake, has almost 30 students fewer than we do, but a budget that's nearly $2.5 million higher. And Keene has more than 100 fewer students, with a budget that outstrips ours by over $100,000.

In fact, of the six schools in the area with enrollments of around 100-300 students, our budget is the flat-out lowest, while our enrollment is the third largest. And, as recent stories in this newspaper have shown, our record of achievement is outstanding by any standard, including a graduation rate of 100 percent, nationally recognized academic results, and an inspiring athletic program. This sort of success isn't just one year's fluke, but a consistent result year after year.

My guess is that few residents have more trouble paying their taxes than I do. I'm always behind, and I'm struggling to hang on to a family property that I never could have afforded to purchase on my own. The taxes astonished me when I moved in more than a decade ago, and they've tripled since then. As a professional writer, the bottom line for me is that if I don't land a decent book contract this year I'm probably done. (Despite the horrible state of the publishing industry, I have a good shot, I think, but that's a different story).

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