Friday, April 15, 2016

One More Parent Talks About School Funding

This is Ed McKeon's address to the Common Council about school funding.  Ed McKeon (that's me), is one of the editors of, and a frequent contributor to, The Middletown Eye.

On Tuesday night, our Assistant Superintendent of School Enza Macri said it best.  You might have read it in the newspaper.

She said, “If there are cuts, we are going to lose ground.  It will be very catastrophic for our district.  You will see an academic shift.”

Maybe you think that’s hyperbole.  Maybe you think those of us who support a fully-funded budget are like Chicken Little, saying “the sky is falling.”

I won’t tell you who the Council member is who told me this, but he’s not here tonight.

You’re right, the sky may not be falling.  But the value of my home is.  Because the value of my home is tied directly to the quality, or the perceived quality of schools in this city.

The sky may not be falling.  But pieces of the ceilings are in the hallways and gymnasiums of our schools. 

The sky may not be falling.  But apparently pages are falling out of 13 year old history books.

The sky may not be falling, but academic scores will be.  Graduation rates will be.  Enrollment numbers will be, as parents and students flee to private, magnet and charter schools.  You've heard evidence of it here tonight.

And I don’t mean to seem hyperbolic myself, but there’s a sense that a death spiral can occur.  Don’t fund schools, and parents move out of town.  Parents move out and there are less people to pay taxes and support the school.  Less support, and the schools get worse, until the only people left are the people who can’t afford to move.  You may think it can’t happen here, but it’s happened in other Connecticut towns.  It’s even happened in great cities like Detroit.

The sky may not be falling, but the number of qualified teachers will, as the number of crowded classrooms rise.

True, the sky hasn’t fallen yet, because a dedicated staff has done more for less.    I worry about teachers who feel like their not supported going to districts where they will be.  I worry that our superintendent, who is one of the most hard-working people I know, will at some point say, “I don’t need this.”  My only problem with Pat Charles is that she’s not political enough.  The only thing about her that makes me angry, is that she doesn’t get angry enough.

The mayor mentioned that in order to get our potholes filled, keep our streets plowed in the winter that we need to increase funding on the city side.

We need summer school for some of our most challenged kids.  But we don’t have the money to pay for it.  Do you know that we still have summer school each year at Macdonough, because the dedicated teachers there do it for free?  I don’t know if city workers would fill our potholes or plow our streets for free.

We’ve got school libraries without librarians.  We’ve got half of the middle school population unable to study a foreign language.  We’ve still got a high school study hall with 200 kids.   We have worthwhile sports and activities that can’t be funded.   We have a shortfall in AP classes, and gifted and talented programs.  We’ve got curriculum materials that are a decade out of date.  We don’t have enough functional desks at the middle school.  Our teachers and students suffer on hot days without air conditioning.  We’ve still got kids marching in 30 year old band uniforms, because despite the amount the Council allotted last year, on a quarter of the uniforms could be purchased.

Let me talk for a minute about responsibility.  We can agree that our state and federal officials are not doing what they are obliged to do.  Falling short on school and special ed funding.  Creating absurd laws in the dead of night.  It's no wonder people have lost faith in all elected officials.

But what do we tell a fourth grade student that doesn’t have the appropriate material for a science unit?  “Sorry, we’d like you to have that chapter on planets, but the state legislature put a 2.4% cap on spending?”

Mayor, you said that the bad news rolls down hill.  But it doesn’t stop on your desk.  It doesn’t stop with the Common Council, or the Board of Education.  That stuff that’s rolling down hill.  That stuff ends up in the classroom.  It’s the kids that suffer because the governor, and the legislature, and the mayor and the council will not say that the most vulnerable amongst us need to be protected from political irresponsibility.

If I need to pay a couple of hundred more dollars every year, I’m willing because it is our responsibility to provide our children, all our children, with an appropriate education.

Without the appropriate funding, 15 teachers will be laid off, and an elementary school will likely have to be closed.  Because all the other cuts that could be made, have been made.

I know you’ll say, that the Common Council and the mayor have no control over how the Board of Ed spends their money.  But that’s about making line item decisions.  You do have control over the bottom line.  And this year, the bottom line has been trimmed to the bone.

So, if the school budget is funded at less than one percent, or one percent, or one point five per cent, you…you have given the BOE no other choice.

The Board of Ed delivered a responsible budget.  You may find it impossible to fund it.  But make no mistake, without those funds, as Enza Macri said, the effects will be catastrophic. 

Without the funding, we will have fifteen less teachers, and one less elementary school.  And that decision is your decision.


Anonymous said...

Been waiting for the facts from information that I received from state of ct foi request, How much does the Middletown boe receive from the state of ct and other sources that is not in the 80 million requesting that city does not receive the money it goes directly to the boe or would you tell me that all grants and state aid go to Middletown budget first and then mayor gives it to the boe I will post letter later after I get the answer so I could tell everyone that boe is saying the truth or will my comment b removed and not answer

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon 2:36

If I understand your run-on sentence (punctuation is free, you ought to try some), you want to know what grants the BOE gets above the money requested from the General Fund? That information has been published and discussed at BOE meetings for years. It's all available.

Period (that's one of those punctuation marks, in case you're not familiar, and evidence suggests such).

Ed. It. Is.

Anonymous said...

Poster @ 3:25 pm, some grants go directly to the BOE (including some state grants) and some go to the City. The BOE gets about $12 -16 million a year in grants that go just to them that are not part of the $80m budget. It used to be in the budget book that the BOE published but they don't do that any more.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon 4:22

Of course, the dirty little secret of the "budget book," that the previous administration used to print every year is that they never changed it from year to year. We could go back to those times of line items that were essentially slush funds, but none of us wants that, do we?

The grant information is public, and readily available. Without those grants, the district would be in real trouble.

Ed, Ed, Bo Bed, Bonanna nana Fo Fed, Fi Fi Mo Med. Ed.

Anonymous said...

It would be helpful if both the BOE and the city showed their grant revenue and expenditures in their budgets instead of having to dig for the information.

Anonymous said...

So the answer is about right the boe pays about 20000 per student to attend Middletown school just a quick question what do other town like Glastonbury pay per studentship sure must pay way more that why people are moving there

Anonymous said...

Ed .... You have "cried wolf" once two often. Every year you complain about school funding no matter how much the Mayor and the council award the BOE. Give it a break.

The BOE should present detailed line-by-line budget showing us taxpayers what is needed, but the BOE never does. They only give a four page PowerPoint presentation It's a joke. City taxpayers & voters are sick and tired if you whining and the lack for transparency. Pl

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anon: 4:59

As Warren Zevon said, "Ahhh-whooooo."

It's gotten worse every year, and the funding has never been there. Crying wolf infers a falsehood.

The entire budget is available, line by line for anyone willing to get out of his pajamas, and to a meeting. Or through a simple request. Do you think the mayor and the Common Council are just looking at summary provided by the Superintendent?

I'm sorry for your exhaustion and your illness. If you would only be brave enough to enlighten us with your name, I'd apologize personally.

Until then, I'm Ed, and you're somebody too chicken to post your real name.