Editorial: The rubber stamp

On Jan. 24, the Board of Education phoned in their budget, voting unanimously to propose a 4.58 percent increase in the school budget. If it stands, education expenses will top $100 million for the first time in town history, and there was barely a whimper of protest from the BOE. It left us wondering, who does the BOE represent if they actually did their job?

Board members seems to take every opportunity to say that they represent the kids, but students already have plenty of voices in the conversation. Parents and students aren’t afraid to speak up when they need to. Local schools boast some of the strongest PTOs and booster clubs for everything from drama and sports to band and robotics. In local government, the BOE isn’t supposed to be the students’ representatives. Few are even old enough to vote for them. The BOE is elected to represent the town’s interests in the discussion.

This board also seems to fancy themselves as champions for the workers, but faculty already has strong advocates. The town has many unions, from teachers, para-educators, and administrators to custodial, secretarial, food service, and nurses. Each one collectively bargains with the town (through the BOE) for everything from wages to class size. It’s the BOE’s job to hold them to these agreements, not to argue on their behalf. The BOE represents the town, not the employees.

Voters trust the BOE to represent the town’s financial interests when the superintendent swings for the fence. We don’t fault Timothy Connellan. If he doesn’t ask for more money, who will? We fault the BOE. Most are former PTO and teachers, but as BOE members they need to represent all voters, from the parents and the faculty that live in town to the taxpayer with no kids in the system and local business owners asked to foot the bill. If the BOE doesn’t represent them, who will? It’s not a democracy if one group has no voice.

We were shocked that the BOE merely rubber stamped the second biggest increase in a decade. The biggest was last year’s 9.76 percent increase (during a state financial crisis). Sure, last year’s increase balanced a decrease from the previous year, but those two years combined (2017-18 and  2018-19) saw school expenses grow by 6.87 percent—the largest increase for any other two-year period in the last decade. Why didn’t anybody on the BOE question Connellan when he said that a 4.58 percent increase was necessary “after two years of below current level of services funding”?  The last two years—actually three years—were above average, not below.

To be fair, the BOE did offer some protests. Joe Baczewski (R) protested a $3,400 trailer, and David Derynoski (D) addressed a $20,000 increase for computer hardware, but it was a superficial protest at best. Even if they did manage to trim the $23,400 in protests from the $100 million budget, it would be like trying to reduce a $100 utility bill with two pennies found in the driveway. (Sorry, 2.3 pennies).

In fact, the school budget has ballooned by 31 percent over the last decade (it was $76 million in 2009). Costs have increased by $24 million since 2009 (the rest of the government has only increased $10.7 million (25 percent) during the same period). Education costs have spiked $13 million (15.1 percent) since Connellan took the helm in 2014. Graduation rates, test scores, and inflation haven’t come close to those rates of increase. What’s important to the BOE when proposing budgets? Connellan‘s cheers? A unanimous vote?

A 4.58 percent increase is not responsible when the new governor has been discussing tolls and a food tax to balance the rising state deficit. It isn’t fair to make the Town Manager do all the work to keep the town afloat…again.

To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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