Friday, April 26, 2013

Five Good Reasons to Support the School Budget

Ed McKeon is a resident, and member of the Middletown Board of Ed.  This post reflects his personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Board of Ed in general, or any other individual members of the board.

On Tuesday, the residents and taxpayers of Middletown will have the opportunity to comment on the school budget proposed by school superintendent Pat Charles.

As a father of two boys in a city elementary school, and as a member of the Board of Education, I urge all residents to support full funding of the budget as requested, and here are five reasons why.

1.     The Board of Education Budget is more open and transparent than ever before.  In the past, the public, and the Common Council have complained that budgeting and spending at the Board of Education was cloaked in secrecy.  This year, under Superintendent Pat Charles, the Council received the budget request earlier than they ever have.  They have had the chance to examine it and question expenditures.  They mayor, and his financial advisers, have been part of budget development from the beginning, and all have been invited to attend Budget Committee and Board meetings to join in financial discussions, though few have. 

In the past five years the Common Council has granted only minimal increases to the Board of Ed.  These minimal increases have meant that the BOE has not been able to reasonably keep up with inflation, contract obligations, loss of state and federal grants and state mandates (it must be noted that Middletown teachers, have, during that period, given up expected raises).  This also means that after five years, we are trying to dig out of a deep hole. 

The Board asked Superintendent Charles to develop a budget that would allow us to deliver all services to students that we now deliver, with no loss of teachers, no increase in class size, and with a modest increase for teacher development.  That realistic budget was delivered and it would have meant an 11.6% increase (an increase of $8,413,411 from 2012-2013.)  As a board we knew that it was too large an increase for a single year, so we asked the Superintendent to create a budget that would serve students at a very basic level.  That budget is the one before you, asking for a 7.1% increase ($77,722,558 total, $5,172,558 increase). 

Even with that increase we will have fewer teachers (between 7-11 fewer positions), larger class sizes, less classroom help for students with special needs, fewer supplies, fewer computers, and no meaningful teacher development.  The mayor has suggested that further cuts are necessary, we will be cutting deep into the flesh of the educational needs of our kids.  With those kind of cuts we would need to eliminate around 20 teaching positions, delay purchase of computers, cut administrative support, reduce supplies and eliminate some extra-curricular activities.

2.     Unfunded state mandates are crippling our ability to teach.  Forget about whether you agree with increased testing, new teacher evaluations or common core instruction.  These state and federal mandates require that our schools teach, test and evaluate in prescribed methods, using prescribed materials and personnel.  All of this costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And the state and federal government only provides a fraction of what it costs.   There has been an uptick in mandates in the past few years, but no uptick in money to pay for them.  Every new mandate erodes the budget for everyday instruction.

3.     Middletown is not spending as much on education as you think, when compared to cities like ours.  It’s too simplistic to say that the cost-per-pupil somehow dictates what the outcome, or success of a student should be.  $13,000 spent in Glastonbury is not the same as $13,000 spent in Middletown.  Here the issues of poverty and school-preparedness are major challenges, and the need and costs of intervention are so much higher than they are in wealthy towns.  On lists which compares schools against schools with the same demographics as Middletown, we are only in the middle of the list for per pupil spending, and that accounts for debt service the city pays.

4.     Magnet schools and Charter Schools are draining revenue from our budget.  The state, in its wisdom, has created incentives for the creation of Magnet and Charter Schools to attempt to solve the problems of fair access to education, a wide achievement gap, and inequity in big-city schools.  Despite the fact that these schools have not begun to solve these problems they are well-funded by the state.  They recruit some of our best students away with the lure of better equipped, modern schools with low teacher-to-student ratios.  But our school district has to pay a large portion of the tuition for students who choose to attend these schools.  Last year Middletown paid in excess of $370,000 in tuition, but our savings are negligible.  The eighty students who attend these schools come from throughout our school system, which doesn’t allow us to downsize in any meaningful way.  We still have the same number of schools buildings, classes, supplies and teachers.  So the tuition we pay out is a net loss for our district.

5.     Do it for yourself.  If you have children in the school system, it makes perfect sense to demand the funding needed for the best education.  If you don’t have children in school, you might think otherwise, but you’re fooling yourself.  I’ve always said that good schools are the best economic development tool any city can have.  People and companies will only move to town, will only stay in town, if the schools can serve their children well.  Any real estate agent will tell you that the value of your home is directly tied to the quality of schools in your town.  If we let our school district deteriorate, we do it at the risk of losing value on our own property.  If you think you’ll ever want to sell your house, you’ll want to be able to say that Middletown Schools are highly ranked, because it will make thousands of dollars difference in the price.

We have great schools, great teachers and high-achieving students, working hard, but without the resources they should have.  By underfunding our schools we put at risk our ability to maintain high standards, worse still, we risk making the progress we need to make. 

I urge you to take time to attend the public hearing on the budget in the Common Council chambers on Tuesday, and to make your opinion known.


Anonymous said...

Disagree that this is a transparent budget. Where are the numbers of employees? And the descriptions of the programs and associated costs like new teacher evaluation system? In prior years there was a booklet and description on the boe website. That kind of info is no where to be found.

The BOE did not even approve a budget until March and were unaware they even had a policy that required them to approve it and submit it to the city in January. So it did not get done sooner this year contrary to these claims.

Its hard to support such an increase in superintendent salary. Her salary is out of line - where was McKeon when her salary was being negotiated?

The pat on the back is not warranted and neither is the budget.

Anonymous said...

The kids that go to the magnet and charter schools are leaving Middletown schools for a reason. What's the high priced superintendent and the do nothing BOE doing to retain these students?

Stop complaining and do something!

Jam (Jennifer Mahr) said...

Dr. Charles inherited a $1.5 million deficit in the 2012-13 budget that she did not create. She successfully erased the deficit, and put into effect many cost savings strategies for this year and future budgets. For that reason alone, she is worth the price.

Furthermore, if you've seen a BOE budget presentation recently (and I've personally seen it more than once), you would have also seen the Mayor, the BOE Chairman and the Superintendent all sitting next to each other at the same table, using nice language, and talking about Middletown's educational priorities. Not "my" or "our" priorities, but Middletown's. The complete change in tone and non-verbal body language between those three entities is also worth the price of the Superintendent's salary.

Finally, the BOE and the Superintendent can only do so much with so little. Teachers can't pull text books and copy paper and field trips out of thin air, and that's what our budget has been reduced to. Spend even 5 minutes talking to a Middletown Elementary School principal about their supply budget, and you'll understand the draw to magnet schools. We as a town have to spend the money first, and then the students will stop leaving. It's doesn't work the other way around.

Don't believe me? Come to a BOE meeting and see for yourself...the next one is May 14th at 7pm at City Hall.

Anonymous said...

I.5 million dollar deficit in the current budget?? Really what was done, and it's admirable and necessary, was to bring the spending down to the budgeted amount. Previously BOE administrations spent money without regard to the amount budgeted or in other words spent more money than was allocated to them. There was no deficit in the 2012-2013 budget; the BOE would have liked and probably needed 1.5 million dollars more but since it was available to them; they correctly reduced spending to what they received from the City and taxpayers. There is a system for the BOE or any department of the City to request more funding if they find that they have unexpected or exceptional expenses: they can request an appropriation (more money) from the Council. You don't just spend the money anyway (since the check won't bounce cause there's a general fund balance to cover it) like the previous superintendent did.

Kevin E said...

Funny how those against the BOE Budget remain anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Signing your comment with a first name and initial is practically the same as using anonymous in my opinion.

Who I may be shouldn't affect how you think of that.

Random Esker said...

By anyone's reasoning regarding the use of "anonymous", we should all be voting in plain sight of the public for all to know for who we vote. But we all cast our votes anonymously, don't we? There can be many reasons why a person wishes to remain anonymous and they are as valid as those who wish to announce their opinions gladly without the veil of anonymity.

Jam (Jennifer Mahr) said...

Anon on 4/29/13 at 12:11 am - I'm sorry, but your characterization of "bringing spending down to the budgeted amount" isn't completely correct. The district can budget for students attending TEMS, but it can't predict how many students will decide to go to other magnet schools. Yet, it is still responsible for that payment, and you can't call that "spending money without regard to the amount budgeted."

There absolutely was a deficit: check the long-term substitute expenses and magnet school tuition expenses as primary examples of expenses the district had to pay outside the "budgeted amount."

Anonymous said...

The budget is amount of money that the BOE can legally spend. The city appropriates a certain amount of money to the Board who spend it as they deem necessary, the budget shows how they plan to do that. Granted most line items need to be estimated based on past history or experience. Some line items are more fixed based on already negotiated contracts. The tuition line is one of those lines that is subject to change. However, the BOE cannot spend more than they are appropriated. If they fall short, the process is to approach the Common Council and ask for another appropriation. They are not supposed to just spend the money anyway which us what happened under Dr. Frechettes watch.

Ed McKeon said...


There are some legitimate reasons for people to remain anonymous in their comments. But they are rare.

In the web world, anonymity affords the cowardly the ability to spew hit-and-run faulty "arguments" without taking the responsibility to stand up for them.

Facts are only facts if they can be verified. Anonymity makes that impossible.

As you know, the Eye no longer prints mean-spirited insults, so the trolls have fled elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Can't say that I agree that anonyminity means that you check the facts. Facts are facts and if true are true no matter who speaks or write them.

Anonymous said...

The Eye should just not post anon comments since "mean" is subjective. So Ed for Mayor?

Ed McKeon said...

Anon 12:28: Facts are facts. Lies are lies. Rumors are rumors. If you put your name to it, someone can call you on a fact that ain't. If your anonymous, then you're hiding something. And...

Anon 1:11: ...Of course it's subjective. That's what the role of editor is.