Monday, April 11, 2016

An Educational Slap in the Face: Dissecting the Problem

Bear with me, this one is long.  It is a fact based commentary and it is a sobering view of how neglected the education system has really become here in Middletown. This report, should offer a warning to the citizens of Middletown that if you care about education in this City, then you need to start now to effect change in the years to come.  Stand up. Be Counted. Protect our kids.  Let our elected officials know that we won't allow them to continue to slow the rate of progress in our schools. 


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.

Brian K


Anonymous said...

I am bone-weary of arguments that boil down to this:

If you have a heart, if you care about children, if you think education has any role to play in our democracy and our economy, you must support diverting more of taxpayer's earnings from other uses to our unreformed, monolithic, union-dominated public education establishment.

Don't even think about questioning results obtained for the resources expended -- down that road lies racism and the inherent unfairness of teacher evaluation! -- just understand that if anyone anywhere is spending more on their piece of the system, then we here are not putting enough into our piece.

Guess what? Iowans think corn farmers need more support. Every entrenched interest wraps itself in one flag or another and howls for more of other people's money. And they have no dearth of charts.

Rebecca D. said...

Thank you for addressing the DRGs, it is much more suitable reference point when trying to compare "apples to apples" in terms of school systems.

BrianK said...

Anon "Bone-Weary". I don't disagree with you. I think it is very fair that people can be passionate about where they want their hard earned money spent. Or more accurately their hard earned tax revenue. I make no bones about these blogs I write being strictly my opinion, and I will always freely admit that this is my hot-button. (Bone-Weary was an excellent description BTW)

But let me say this - cities and towns all around Connecticut (and even Iowa) have needed to deal with Federal and State Governments that have raised expectations and lowered support. Heck, if I have heard correctly, just last week the State cut another $200,000 from Middletown's Alliance Grant (an Educational grant program) So yes, I am passionate about the onus being on our City Leaders to do the right thing. We were already on a shoe-string budget and a $700,000 increase is not enough to cover our "cost-of-living" expenses let alone build the system back from at least 10 years of being torn down. We do amazing things without comparable resources - imagine what we could do if there was shift in our mindset.

We don't need to be at 70% (even I wouldn't sign off to that) but let's try 50%. Oh and despite what some will say - we can probably get there without raising taxes. There is no need to raise our taxes when there is room to reallocate.

Brian K

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon 7:58:

Sorry your bones ache. Our raggedy Democracy is not cheap, and the reason you continue to hear the same pleas over and over again is because we fail to address them appropriately. As one teacher once said: "Let's for once, fund education in the way it deserves. It's never, ever been tried. Let's see if it works." Your gripes about the teacher unions are more far more tired than gripes about the actual problems. You'll find, if you check, that states with teacher unions actually have far better educational outcomes than do states without. As far as the cry of racism, well, unfortunately, all you have to do is look at the state of CT to see that institutional racism is at play in the lack of funding for city schools. In terms of outcomes, I'll give you an example close to home. The state funded an English as a Second Language at Bielfield Elementary school. It was amazingly successful with a huge up-tick in scores. After it was declared a success, the state defunded it, and the disctrict could not afford to fund it fully. So a successful program, that cost a little extra money had to be scaled back. Finally, you have never, ever paid enough for quality education in this state. I won't argue that our government is good, or efficient at spending money, but paying taxes is a privilege you have in supporting an infrastructure that keeps you safe and able to make enough so that you can gripe about taxes.

Funny, how most people who bitch about paying taxes are afraid to sign their names to posts.

My name is Ed. I pay taxes and I'd be willing to pay more if our schools were fully-funded.

David Sauer said...

I agree with the need to increase funding to education, but your adherence to the no new taxes mantra is a reason why we are in the mess we are in. To claim we could fully fund education in Middletown by reallocating resources is simply nonsense. There are obviously ways that we can save some money, but you cannot come up with the kind of money needed by cutting other programs, or eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. It seems somewhat contradictory that you seem to assume that there are huge unnecessary expenditures on the city side, but none on the education side.

If you want to more money for schools it means higher taxes. As long as everyone repeats the mantra no new taxes politicians who want to be re-elected are not going to fund education properly. I hate paying taxes as much as the next person, but if you want more money for education then you have to be willing to see taxes go up. Advocating for significantly increased funding for education, but demanding that our taxes do not go up is useless.

Anonymous said...

At the meetings last fall, there was some surprise about class size at Farm Hill and there have been comments about class size growing. What I would like to see is a complete chart/breakdown of class size per class/per room at each of the elementary schools.

Also, 17 teachers laid off. Is this the "equivalent" of 17 teachers or have the positions been identified? My question: if a 4th grade teacher at X elementary school is laid off, are the students from that class divided between the remaining 4th grade classes??

We are down 20 teachers already. What measures had to be taken to "cover" those classes they taught?