***WARNING OPINION BEGINS NOW***
The Common Council is getting closer by the day to adopting the 2016/2017 City Budget, and as each day passes, I get angrier. This is the first year where I have really felt the sting of the proverbial hand across the face. I could be mad at the State for constantly underfunding public education across the state. I could also be upset with the way the State refuses to fully reimburse the districts for their Special Education costs the way that statues say they are supposed to. I can get upset about ALL OF THE UNFUNDED MANDATES that are passed down from Hartford and the State Department of Education. But for this argument, it all started with the "local" problem. All those State problems are problems, but we are not exactly getting our fair share from our local politicians.
It has been proposed by Mayor Drew, that the Board of Education receive an increase of $700,000. This is less than 1% of the current years (2015/16) board budget. I have begun to review other items on the budget and have found many of the "City Side" increases are salary based. (I promise to post an un-biased updated blog when I have finished my research)
If we specifically look at the bottom line, the Mayor has proposed an increase to the City Budget (posted on the City Website) of just over 4.3% which equates to just under a 7.5 million dollar increase. That would mean that if passed, less than 10% of your increased tax dollars will be ear-marked towards education. Some of you may be OK with this, others of you may be irate, but how does this compare to other towns that are similar to ours.
I have a few charts to share with you. The first series of three charts are based on my own personal research. Data for my research can be cited from the State of Connecticut - Department of Public Health and the State of Connecticut - Office of Policy and Management. The second series of three charts are based on our District Reference Group (DRG) which is designated by the State Department of Education (CT)
Chart 1. POPULATION. This is a base line chart that will provide a ranking of cities or towns that have a population that is similar to that of Middletown. I used populations that are +/- 15% that of Middletown. You will see that on the list of 10 cities and towns, Middletown ranks as the 7th largest. This chart was simply designed to provide a baseline list of similar sized towns to Middletown that will be extrapolated into Charts 2 and 3.
Chart 2. MILL RATES. Again we are using the same cities and towns from Chart 1. The MILL rate is the percentage that personal property is taxed. The higher the MILL rate the higher your taxes. Middletown Ranks 8th on this chart - not where you want to be. (***FAIR DISCLAIMER*** in Middletown, Enfield, Norwich, and Groton - I had to use an average as all 4 of these communities have a fire tax in addition to the base tax and the fire tax varies based on location.)
Chart 3. EDUCATION SUPPORT. This final chart is the percentage of each city or town's budget that is spent on education. You will see total budget, education budget, and percentage. Middletown is dead last. I don't think I need to tell you - this is not where we want to be.
My personal opinion and deductions from the charts above - Middletown has been short changing education for a VERY LONG TIME. Agree or disagree, this is a good time to reiterate my stance from weeks, months, and years passed. I do not want higher taxes - I just want a greater allocation of existing funds to be spent on education.
Moving on to the series of charts based on the District Reference Group, or DRG for short. The picture does not get much better. According to the State Department of Education, Middletown is in DRG Group G. There are 15 districts in this DRG and only 3 are classified as similar. (No idea which 3)
The criteria of each DRG is as follows - Seven data indicators are used to classify similar districts into a DRG: three indicators of socioeconomic status (median family income, parental education, and parental occupation), three indicators of ne (percentage of children living in families with a single parent, the percentage of public school children eligible to receive free or reduced priced meals, and percentage of children whose families speak a language other than English at home), and enrollment (the number of students attending schools in that district)
My charts are similar, they will rank the DRG first by population, then by Mill rate, and lastly by Educational Support. I think you will be shocked by the results. Middletown is the middle of the pack for population and mill rate in our DRG but just barely out of last place in the educational support category.
CHART 1: POPULATION within the DRG as set forth by the State Department of Education and confirmed by the State of Connecticut - Department of Public Health
Chart 2. MILL RATES within the DRG as set forth by the State Department of Education and confirmed by the State of Connecticut - Office of Policy and Management.
Chart 3. EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT. The final SLAP in the face. If it wasn't bad enough to be dead last in my own research - the DRG report shows we are 2nd to last in a bigger sample size.
In closing (and thanks for taking the time) I have been told by a few, that my opinions are "wrong", or "inflammatory", or "not based on fact". All the data you have seen in this commentary is available if you do the research. I have spent over 8 hours today compiling my data and crunching numbers. I welcome an open dialogue with anyone who is willing to have it. I have reached out to a few Council members and Board of Education members, you know who you are, and I hope you are taking this very seriously. I am ready to work, are you?
I know I have supporters out there who just want to see our schools do better. I know I have my naysayers out there that think the schools have too much. We are all entitled to our opinions, that is what makes forums like this so great. So let's hear them.