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Sunday, January 24, 2010

FROM WALLINGFORD – Process and reason

This edition of FROM WALLINGFORD is written by my counterpart on the column, Stephen Knight

An object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in mo­tion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbal­anced force.” Newton’s First Law of Mo­tion.

Congress shall make no law . . . abridg­ing . . . the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Amendment 1, U.S. Constitution.

Please keep these two concepts in mind as you read how Wallingford School Su­perintendent deals with the reaction to his proposed 2010-2011 Education budget. Dr. Menzo came to Wallingford a few months ago. Surely he liked what he saw — a successful school system in a suc­cessful community. The temptation to continue with business as usual must have been strong. But Dr. Menzo also saw that his administration could not kick the financial can down the road any longer. The severe fiscal constraints at hand fi­nally had to be dealt with. There is a po­litical version of Newton’s First Law of Motion, and the resulting proposal is at­tempting to overcome it, and I applaud him for his effort.

As a consequence, he is now dealing with the inevitable pushback by all those whose lives will be affected by these changes. We read about the various meet­ings and forums and workshops being held to discuss how these changes would be implemented. This is all good, and is in recognition of the bedrock American tra­dition spelled out in the First Amendment quoted above. I truly believe that the re­sult of all of this will be a school budget in line with today’s financial reality paired with a constituency (parents, students, teachers, administrators, employees) that will have impacted the final design and implementation of these changes.

There are those, including my counter­part Jason Zandri, that hold that the process should have been reversed; that the administration should have convened a series of focus groups and workshops that included all the “stakeholders,” out of which proposals would have been devel­oped. Hence the process would have been a more transparent and cooperative one and thus easier for people to accept.

With all due respect, does anyone think that such a process would have resulted in anything other than protecting the status quo (See Newton’s Law above)? Would recognition of the fiscal corner we are painted into triumph over the under­standably limited albeit legitimate aim of preserving the existing jobs, programs and school system structure? Who would have developed any proposal to honestly confront the serious budget shortfall the town faces if they had no real responsibil­ity for mitigating it? Only Dr. Menzo and the BOE do, and we have to accord them the authority to carry out that responsi­bility. In exercising that authority, he has brought forth a proposal. Now it is being vetted by the public.

That is at the heart of a representative democracy. We elect people, therefore handing over power to do the govern­ment’s business. We do so recognizing that a municipal government of 43,000 people would devolve into anarchy if we all demanded input on every matter com­ing before it. We expect them to act, but if we take issue with those actions, the First Amendment empowers us to confront those public servants. That is the purpose of all the meetings. The result will never satisfy everyone, but it is the correct process being carried out in the correct order.

To quote Winston Churchill: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Our oftentimes messy, noisy chaotic political system has at its foundation a constant search for that perfect definition of “consent of the gov­erned.” That is what is playing itself out in Wallingford with regard to the BOE budget. The process will not have been easy or pain-free, but it will have been fair.


  1. This economic problem didn't appear out of the blue. Making decisons of this magnitude, like a major restructure under financial duress without the proper data, planning and buy-in is inherently dangerous and risky for a nominal, if any cost savings. Structure notwithstanding, I would like to know how many districts "restructured" as a solution to an economic problem and did so successfully in just a few months with major staffing changes? To quote Benjamin Franklin, “All human situations have their inconveniences. We feel those of the present but neither see nor feel those of the future; and hence we often make troublesome changes without amendment, and frequently for the worse.”

  2. The Superintendent cited the cost to provide heat and utilities to the new VoAg building as one reason to layoff teachers. However at least one of his administrators told teachers that the new building would increase enrollment and the added tuition would go to the town making the building profitable. It appears that the Superintendent is just following the Mayors' orders to break the union. The town has more than enough surplus money. If the mayor is waiting for a rainy day somebody wake him up and tell him its pouring