Editorial: Budget cramps

Numbers — some followed by percentage signs, others prefixed by dollar signs — are all the rave this week.

Yep, it’s budget season.

The school board played its part late last month, and the selectmen followed suit after a three-day jam session two weeks ago.

The only thing left for both boards to do is stand on the sidelines as the Board of Finance takes the field to finish the game.

The second half begins with a public hearing Monday night in East Ridge Middle School.

Some of the big topics include a non-binding recommendation to reduce the schools’ $93,518,000 budget by $884,000; a $1-million capital item request to repair the leaking locker rooms and showers at the rec center that some fear will leave it looking “patched”; and staff reductions on both the town — one full-time, two part-time — and school side, which proposes to cut the equivalent of seven full-time teacher and one part-time position.

And the trimming might be just beginning.

Things could get a little testy once the finance board takes a look under the hood and determines what other parts are worth tossing out so this vehicle can cross the finish line.

All the while percentages — 3.48% versus 2.5%, and then 2.5% versus 1.87% — will be argued, too.

If the town’s increase is below that magic number everyone’s been talking about since Christmas (the state-imposed 2.5% municipal spending cap), how come the school board can’t get its bottom line to match?

It’s a tiresome process. Fatigue kills.

That’s why three boards carry the burden — not one.

How much weight the selectmen’s non-binding recommendation carries remains to be seen, but this much is clear based on previous budget spasms: One side will argue to give the schools everything they need and the other will say whittle down it to the smallest figure possible.

The good news is — whatever the scoreboard reads at the end of this season — voters will ultimately have a final say on the numbers in early May.

That’s right, this contest is far from over.