By Tony Ditrio
Principal, Kendall Elementary School
Once again the present city administration is trying to underfund and undercut the education of our children. Over the last four years they have done this with ever-changing stories that just don’t have any validity.
First we were told that the economy was bad and we could not afford funding our schools. The devastating cuts began in the last year of Dr. Corda’s superintendency. The result was the elimination of positions and the shrinking of Central Office. It left us with a leadership team that was lacking in vision and being run by mostly retired administrators in interim positions.
When Dr. Marks arrived she was immediately confronted with millions of dollars in cuts to the system. Again we were told that the economy was bad, but now we added the notion that staff was over-compensated. This is when we heard the first salvo of hard pay freezes and shared sacrifice.
By Dr. Marks’ second year we were then confronted with a $4 million deficit in the insurance fund. This, they said, was due to mismanagement on the board’s part, and then proceeded to deduct $4 million from our next two years of budgets. Even though the Common Council voted to find ways to forgive the “loan,” the city would hear nothing about it and, together with the BET, ignored the will of the people.
I still find it amazing that the city leaders were able to convince people that the Board of Education could take $4 million out of the city’s coffers without them knowing. This was not money that the board had direct control over. If the board needed funds for insurance costs they needed to request funds from the city. It is the city who controls all the insurance money. Last year, while causing many critical job losses for the Board of Ed, the city was able to actually increase its “rainy day” fund. Over this period of time the Board of Education was forced to reduce spending by millions of dollars below what was needed just to maintain the adequate staffing and support for our children’s education.
One of the main arguments that we were constantly bombarded with was that if staff, and the teachers particularly, took a pay freeze, our financial troubles would all go away. Public school employees were portrayed as overpaid and greedy. Time and again our city leaders asked for pay freezes and led the public to believe that our schools could be funded properly if not for the union employees and the union leadership.
Here are the facts. Every Board of Education Union has taken at least one pay freeze the last two years and some more than once. This coming year, the teachers will get no raise and no step increases. The hard freeze that was so hyped has finally come to fruition. What is the result of this long-awaited answer to our financial problems? Even more cuts by the city and the BET to the Board of Education budget request. The only difference is the way the city and BET have come up with to take money away from the children.
When the board presented its budget request to the city and the BET, it was hailed as a fiscally responsible request by both the city and the BET. What was the result of this? The city and the BET proceeded to reduce this request so much that any hope of restoring some of the earlier damage was gone. The board was given just enough to keep what it had this year. In spite of the hard freeze, the board did not get what they asked for. So much for all the rhetoric from our city leaders.
I wish I could say that this is the end of the story. Instead, the city and BET have found a way to reduce board funding even more for next year. Their new plan is to reduce the previously agreed-to amount by whatever funds the state may give us beyond the regular ECS funding. They ignore the fact that any money the governor or the legislature is proposing is not intended to offset local funding. The uses of these funds would all be limited in scope and should not be used to fund present programs. These funds might be our only chance to get back some of the losses we have incurred the last few years.
Please don’t let the city and the BET continue its’ destruction of our school system. Your property values and the education of our children are at stake. Ask the BET to allocate the full amount of funding that was promised to the board.
Principal, Kendall Elementary School
(Editor’s note: Mr. Ditrio is head of the Norwalk Association of School Administrators and is treasurer of Democratic mayoral candidate Matt Miklave’s campaign committee)