Taking an ax to education

In the wake of the town council’s awful decision to slice $1.8 million from the proposed school budget, something has to give. Now we know what it might be, and it’s terrible.

The Board of Education has posted a list of potential cuts to reach the new budget goal that it never wanted. You can see the list in PDF form here.

Just scroll through the list and it will make your heart sink. Extending world language education down to kindergarten? Gone. Quest? Gone. Extra help for our most troubled schools? Gone.

They’re even eyeing a return to half-day kindergarten at Aiken, Bugbee, Duffy, Morley and Norfeldt — a policy reversal that flies in the face of every expert’s recommendation. Those same schools might also see class sizes rise by FOUR students apiece. That’s terrible, too, since smaller classes are key for getting results.

Go through the hit list yourself. Everyone will find different things that make them queasy. If this happens, it would be a giant step backward and a slap in the face of our hard-working students, who deserve better.

And what’s really worrisome is that even with all these cuts already looming, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association is pushing for a referendum because it wants MORE cuts. This is so ludicrous that I don’t know where to begin. What kind of town are we creating here? Our leaders need to do better, all of them.

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34 Comments

Filed under Aiken, Board of Education, Bugbee, Duffy, education, Morley, News, Norfeldt, Quest, Schools, town council, Town government, West Hartford

34 responses to “Taking an ax to education

  1. I’m told the school board will get this information formally for its May 15 meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for May 29. The board will approve a new budget, with cuts, on June 5.
    Looks like we’re getting ready for a hell of a fight.

  2. B

    Thanks whdad. I figured you’d be one of the first to post this on-line.

    You are right, of course. These potential cuts are devastating.

    If you want low taxes, you’ll get a lousy school system. That is the tradeoff the crazies are perfectly willing to make. I understand their motivations. I think they are very wrong but I respect where they are coming from. (ok, I don’t really respect them, but you can see what I mean)

    What I don’t understand and don’t respect is the view of the Council. They know how important education is to what makes West Hartford great. Yet they slashed the budget anyway.

  3. Lori

    I feel like crying after reading that list of possible cuts. This is not what I want from my town.

  4. turtle

    We have seen on this blog the kind of thinkers who provoked this diminishment of West Hartford’s public schools.

    Thanks a lot, West Hartford Taxpayers Association.

    Oh yeah, and nice hatchet job you did on the Board of Ed, Town Councillors. Shame on you!

  5. Mr. Jones

    It’s easy to blame the Taxpayer’s Association .. but the real blame is on the administration that would cut from the classroom instead of axing their own sacred cow of administrative expenses. You really should be complaining about them. There are other towns that spend less money and get better results. Haven’t you read the studies that show more money does not equal better education?

    I guess you benevolent folks would rather see the “riff raff” of old people like me, and young struggling families be taxed out of their homes so you can give the kids a private education on the public dole. Shame on you. So much for your desire for what you call “diversity”. Your lack of compassion for people who have lived in this town and supported the schools all along is appalling.

    This budget is and has been bloated for many years – and this year they haven’t cut anything, only the increases they wanted to impose.

  6. Mr. Jones,
    I have one of those struggling young families. And I can assure you that paying more taxes is VERY difficult for me — and I can see a day when I might not be able to afford to live in my own town.
    But our children deserve a great education. The schools are what makes this town special. It’s the reason our house values are so high (which we love all the time except when the tax man comes) and it’s why people want to move here.
    That it’s costly to live here is undeniable. That the town could ease our burden is probably true.
    But let’s see concrete suggestions for savings, not babble about so-called bloat.

  7. Fred Garvin

    These are typical board of education scare tactics whenever they’re forced to endure a cut. It happens everywhere. They predict the worst, then manage to handle the cuts by dipping into the slush funds superintendents are quite adept at placing throughout the budget.

    I wouldn’t fear the end quite yet.

  8. turtle

    What’s the percentage of the education budget devoted to administrative expenses? Show me the numbers.

    You, like Judy Aaron, Vice President of the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, feel free to attribute outrageous sentiments to people who disagree with you about the education budget. How dare you.

    I don’t have much time, but, just to take one example–“A private education on the public dole”?! Hmm. How much money would it take before you could pass the Connecticut Mastery Test in Spanish, Vietnamese or Hindi? Of course, these ESOL kids should have had the decency to be born rich to native-English speakers or not to have shown up in the City on the Hill in the first place. Oh well. There’s always bootstraps.

  9. turtle

    Uh, that was directed Mr. Jones.

  10. Chuck Coursey

    We all want what’s best for our kids and as a dad with children in our schools, I certainly don’t want to see the quality of a West Hartford education suffer.

    One of the things that make West Hartford so special is its diversity – diversity of ethnicity, age and income levels. This year’s initial budget coupled with revaluation (another unfunded state mandate) threatened to erode that diversity by harming those who can least afford it – seniors on fixed incomes and young working families. West Hartford can’t become a community just for the well to do.

    The fact is the 2006-07 Board of Education budget was approximately $113.5 million. The 2007-08 Board of Ed budget passed on 4/24 by the Town Council is approximately $118.3 million. That’s a 4.24% increase in the Board budget.

    The Board of Ed has done an excellent job during trying budgetary times. The Council believes that there are additional savings in the Board budget that can be achieved without impacting the classroom. I’m pleased that the Town and Board Administration are working together to identify and reach consensus on those areas.

    Before we pass judgment on the budget and prepare for a “fight,” let’s take a deep breath and work together for the good of the town and our children.

  11. Well, I hope you’re right, Mr. Coursey.
    But that list of potential cuts is terrifying.

  12. Chuck Coursey

    Please call me Chuck.

    Just how old are you, whdad?

  13. From my reading of the list, it appears the schools need to chop $1.5 million (the other $300,000 comes from energy savings and workers comp recalculations). That’s a heap of money to find in the superintendent’s slush fund.
    You can say that we need to hold down spending to protect seniors and others who are struggling. I agree with that in concept.
    But when it means bigger classes or fewer intramurals or a squeeze on Quest kids or losing the extra teachers needed to make Smith and Charter Oak better, well, you lose me.
    I don’t see how we’re supposed to interpret what’s happened as anything other than an attack on education.
    It’s bad enough when the taxpayers group is shooting at the schools. But to have the town council taking their side makes it harder.

  14. Chuck, I’m old enough to remember hating disco.

  15. Chuck Coursey

    I respectfully disagree with your sentiment that the Council is “gunning for students.”

    This is a very emotional issue and I’m sure given a second chance you may have expressed your sentiments differently.

    Again we all want what’s best for the town and our kids.

    Take a deep breath.

  16. Joe Visconti

    Chuck isn’t West Hartford owed more than 30 million dollars over the last several years from the ECS Sham? These underfunded mandates have to stop now. People seem to dismiss this ECS dilema because it has been thrown around for years. This is big money, what is the State’s 10 year plan for us regarding Educational Cost Sharing? What are we being shorted this year?

  17. Chuck,
    I’d already reconsidered — and revised — those words by the time you posted them. They were too harsh.

  18. Chuck Coursey

    You’re a good man.

    …….and speaking of disco, I have a photo taken at a middle school dance in 1977 of Deputy Mayor Spada in his cream-colored two-piece liesure suit. Art was a true disco king. For the right price I’ll post it on your site.

  19. Would a picture like that repel or attract people? I’m not sure. As long as there’s no soundtrack, I’m inclined to think it would be a benefit.

  20. turtle

    A picture of Deputy Mayor Spada in a leisure suit! That would be awesome. (But whdad, I beg to disagree about the soundtrack. Do it right and run “Last Dance” with the photo.)

    Meanwhile, Mr. Coursey, since you’ve been gracious enough to respond here, would you comment on the manner in which the town council presented these cuts to the Board of Ed, after the Board (correct me if I’m wrong) had submitted a budget under the 6% threshhold of acceptability? Thank you.

    Board members also sounded off on the cuts; many of them said they did not hear about the cuts until moments before the town council voted on them.

    “The last 24 hours has been a rollercoaster for the board of education,” said board member Harry Captain.

    Now before anybody else from the West Hartford Taxpayers Association accuses me of indifference to whether seniors are driven out of their homes, let it be known that I was once driven out of a (beloved) home by skyrocketing costs, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, not even Judy Aron, whose name I misspelled in my screed above. Sorry, Judy! But since I attended public schools, I’m sure you’ll understand.

  21. B

    Ok, Chuck, I’ll call your hand. Please specify the “additional savings in the Board budget that can be achieved without impacting the classroom” that the Council has identified.

    I am sure we are all eager to see these savings.

  22. Chuck Coursey

    As I mentioned, Town and Board staff and working together.

    It’s time to ratchet down the rhetoric and work together.

  23. Lori

    Chuck, I don’t understand. If the town and board staff are working out something other than the list we’re seeing, what is it? I’m perfectly fine with working something out, but all I see is a million and a half dollar hole that appears likely to be filled by big cuts in education for our kids.
    I’m less frustrated now and more mad. This is going to explode if you all press ahead with these recommendations for cuts.

  24. Kevin Sullivan

    Having spent my public life fighting for public schools, allow me to second Chuck Coursey’s plea for prudence. This is not the beginning of the end. This is one budget. This Town Council has put schools first for years, even while cutting back on the municipal side. Having seen my wife Carolyn’s’s frustration and anguish as one member of this Town Council, I know that none of them made these decisions lightly this year. But this is one budget where there really was no other choice given the tax impact of revaluation and less than fair state funding. Over the years, the Town Council has made some very tough and creative decisions to streamline but not compromise municipal programs and services. That’s the challenge that now faces our Board of Education — looking for cuts last in what goes on diectly in the classroom and first at exhausting every other possible way to reduce expenditures (including ideas that the town administration has been pointing out to the school administration for awhile now.) What we who believe in our great town and our great schools cannot do now is be divided or divisive. After all, there’s a new West Hartford Taxpayer’s Association out there that has only begun to slash and burn.

  25. Kevin or Chuck or anyone who knows,
    What are the ideas the town has been pointing out to the schools that haven’t been accepted yet? It would certainly help those of us who are not in the know.
    At this point, I’d have a hard time rising to fight for a budget that seems to me to be ransacking education, even though I know the anti-tax folks will be pushing for even bigger cuts.

  26. Joe Visconti

    The subject matter below may contain concepts that will cause Liberal Anxiety Disorders.

    Whdad,their not not anti- tax folks, their Pro Savings folks.

    Ransacking the Education Cartel is what’s next. No more 6% increase’s for the Public Servant’s.

    Plop Plop Fizz Fizz, oh what a relief it is!

    The referendum is on by the way, time to mobilze your bleeding heart, my kids education and the town will go down the drain groupies.

    Now it’s time to hear your rants.
    “Vote Yes for higher taxes”, Pass the Bong please!

  27. B

    Chuck and Kevin,

    First, thank you for posting here. I do appreciate it. However, how is hinting at cuts you won’t name any different than the sort of nonsense we get from the anti-education crowd?

    We have from the school administration a list of cuts. Unless you provide some alternatives, we have to assume those are the cuts the council thinks the Board should make.

  28. Joe Visconti

    B

    Not anti Education, pro common sense. Many residents cannot afford the constant annual 6% tax increase’s in town, many residents have to make life changing plans because our Town has not recieved it’s fair share of ECS funding. Our Councilors had to act responsibly with their vote on sending back the school budget. If you feel anyone is anti education it is our elected officials at the State level, they are whom you should be addressing. Try contacting Mr. Fleishman regarding our Town being owed over $30,000,000 in ECS funding for the past several years and watch him dance and play the blame game.

    With all due respect thank you West Hartford Councilors for your courage in sending this strong signal to the Board of Ed and the State of CT.

  29. What courage? They’re caving in to the anti-tax crowd rather than doing what most residents want, which is to preserve the quality of our schools.

  30. But, Joe, if you can get that $30 million out of Jodi Rell, God bless you. It’d come in handy.

  31. Joe Visconti

    Whdad

    A nice rally including our elected officials from West Hartford, PTO, PTA members, Elderly residents, Parents and kids assembled on the State Capitol lawn would do the trick. I will Organize it if you and yours want to help. I am not kidding either. Our full ECS funding this year is achievable, all we have to do is Make it Happen at the Capitol. Late May early June would be a great time.

    As far as caving to the anti-tax crowd, the Councilors are not, they don’t have to. If this referendum is won by the Anti-tax crowd the Council is not obligated by law to cut much deeper. Even Past Mayor Harris before the second budget referendum in 04 said ” we only have to cut one dollar ” or something to that effect.

  32. B

    Well, no word from Chuck and Kevin to my challenge, but at least Joe Visconti is pleased with the “courage” of the Council. Think hard guys, would you rather have Visconti or whdad on your side?

  33. Joe Visconti

    B nice

  34. interested

    It’s not nearly enough. Go back and sharpen the pencil.

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