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.