Taxes. Town budgets. Competing priorities. Funding schools or police? These are the issues that face mayors, town councils, and citizens around the globe. One teacher at Cushing Academy is teaching his students about them too.
Each year, Mr. Bob Macioci—who teaches history, economics, and ethics—divides his classes up into groups and gives them a town budget with a deficit. Each group plays the role of a town council in an upper middle class town and the students have to determine how best to balance the town’s budget. More than that, they have to present their budget to a mock town meeting where the citizens are made up of their classmates and faculty and staff who join in the fun.
Issues facing each council? Health insurance for teachers, school vouchers, school staffing, fire and police stations, snow removal, road paving, tax rates on residents and businesses, public transportation, and more.
The groups come up with a number of good ideas—both to raise revenue and to decrease spending. One group proposed closing the town pool, saving the town $1 million per year. One group recommended asking teachers to pay a higher percentage of their health insurance premiums. Another proposed bringing in a Walmart to increase the town’s tax base. Other ideas included an increase in property taxes, and the closing of fire and police stations.
Of course, for every idea to increase revenue or reduce spending, there is a citizen who offers an opposing view. Classmates, playing the role of townspeople, asked each group hard questions. When a group proposed closing fire stations: “What about areas that are now farther away from the station?” When a group suggested closing a police station: “How can you cut police when our town is already seeing an increased crime rate?” Regarding school vouchers: “I don’t have kids, but I think our tax dollars should be spent in our town, not sent to other towns.” From a citizen without children: “The budget we have is more than enough to fund our schools. We should spend our budget on something else.”
Obviously, these are real-world issues playing out in a controlled space, but it’s a good lesson for Cushing’s students whether they’re playing the role of a member of town council or a citizen. Mr. Macioci hopes that the exercise will teach the students that solutions are rarely simple, and there are two sides to every issue.