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Sunday, January 10, 2010

MY TAKE – How the parents can address everything going on with the Board of Education and the School Budget

Full disclosure – My oldest son, Andrew, is in Kindergarten in Stevens School and will be affected by the proposed changes and I have three more kids yet to enter the school system.

Since the press release in the Record Journal of all the planned changes proposed as part of the budget for the Board of Education, there has been a frenzy to get more information and a rally among parents with respect to “what’s next" and "what can we do”.

I’ll probably write my next FROM WALLINGFORD article in next Sunday's Record Journal on the subject but here are some immediate thoughts.

Make sure you have all of the information that you can get your hands on with respect to this proposal; both what is being proposed by our Superintendent and the Board and what has been tried elsewhere. Not everything they are suggesting is bad or out of place especially in these tough financial times. We need to review everything and make sure we point out to them what has worked elsewhere and what didn't.

Grade Span Configuration Research Study at is one example; I am sure there are others.

A friend of mine recently commented “kudos to the BOE in Wallingford for trying to create a budget based on some fiscal responsibility... The budget process in government is (usually) based on the premise that there are unlimited resources.”

He’s right.

Government generally never bases its budgets on fiscal responsibility because there is the ability to just up taxes or levy fees on a captive audience - the Wallingford business owners and the Wallingford home owners.

If Main Street businesses ran their business like this, allowing their costs to spiral out of control and raised prices indiscriminately to meet these expanding costs, you the consumer would just take your dollars elsewhere and they would cease to exist. As a taxpayer to a given town and state you are captive to that environment and bound to pay the taxes and fees as levied. The only way to avoid that is to move and then you’re subject to a different set of taxes and fees.

Taxes and fees are all devised the same way from town to town and from state to state. Some may be more favorable elsewhere (better tax rate, lower fees, etc) but they all are the same – generally put together based on the premise that there are unlimited resources because of the captive audience that is the citizenry that MUST pay taxes.

Quite frankly too, it’s all our fault.

The same 12 people attend the town council meetings.

The same 30 people or so run for public office every two years. Once in a while there is a new name and a new face but they are coming out of the same pool.

The same 45% of the local registered voters turn out at local election time and the majority of them put the incumbents back into office. (One incumbent was voted out in 2009).

This last election in 2009 that registered voter turnout number was below 37% the lowest number in about twenty plus years.

Did you vote?

The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. You cannot put an incumbent that goes a certain way back into office and expect them to suddenly do something different for you. If they already match your line of thinking – great. If not, you need to get to know the other candidates and support them at election time. That means not only voting for them but getting your friends out to vote for them too. You don't cheer for your favorite football team alone - you want to recruit other people to do the same. You need to get jazzed up over local candidates for office in the same manner. It sounds totally off the wall but shouldn't you be as much of a cheerleader for someone running for office that has the same heart and mind as you do? Some of you have a tremendous amount of distain when someone proposes something COUNTER to the way you think; turn that into a positive in 2011 and really push for the people that will get you what you want and need.

Most people claim they can’t afford the time to get involved so the government machine churns on with no one minding the store, save the politicians elected to the offices. Everyone needs oversight or they will follow human nature and do whatever they please. How can you afford NOT to get involved? Part of the reason you're so busy is you're working extra to pay the taxes and fees that your representatives are setting.

“We the people” are supposed to be that oversight but no one volunteers for duty. Oh a few claim they do every year at election time (again - locally less than 45%) but after the vote where are they for the next two years?

So I ask all of the parents specifically – after this issue is over – favorably to what you’re looking for or not, are you going to stay engaged so that it never happens again?

The sad part of is that most of the citizens will disengage and they will not come back to fight until the next time there is a major issue to address.

That is the mistake.

This fight never ends – it is always ongoing and you must be involved as part of the process or the elected individuals will go about doing their job the way they see fit because they are not getting a whole lot of input.

Some will try to do the best job they can.

Others will do the job the best they can while having it be most self serving to their career.

Some will only do the job in a way that is most self serving to them and that is it.

What can you do?

Make it a point to stay engaged; it is a lot of work but this is not a one issue thing. We are not suddenly where we are today by a single erroneous event from the last fiscal year. Some of this is years and years of not planning correctly and being reactive to issues rather than proactive. That is what has gotten us here and has required this sudden, drastic move by the Superintendent needed to try to steer us back onto the rails.

Attend the meetings and provide your input. Enough with the "I need to be careful of my job" and "I can't speak up because of my delicate position in the town / school system / social status in the sewing circle" - I know some of you, you're not that delicate and you usually don't allow people to walk all over you. This is your town and these are your tax dollars - make sure they are both handled the way you expect them to be.

Letter writing campaigns - write the Board of Education, write the Town Council, write the Superintendent and write to the Mayor. Tell them what you like and what you don't like about the proposals. Offer other suggestions that might be used as solutions. It's fine to say "this stinks" but unless you offer an alternate consideration for them to explore what do you expect them to do? They are presenting this and they are looking at it as the best solution they can come up with to the problem. If you have a better idea to save money offer it.

Write letters to the editor at the Record Journal. As you make your thoughts known to others in town on such a wide scale with your letters in the paper you might encourage others to come out and get involved as well. Not everyone is an extrovert and not everyone feels confident to speak and be heard. Some people are slow self starters and need good peer leaders to help them find their footing to speak out. Be a leader and encourage others. It helps the cause and it helps them.

Finally, if you feel like you can't bring yourself to do these things for you then do it for your kids. They are in the school system and they will be impacted by these changes.

Some of you grew up with me; you never left town either (or you left and came back) - what are you leaving to their future if they decide to do the same and stay in Wallingford.

What is the Wallingford that you want them to inherit?

This is your town - get informed and get involved.


  1. That sounds good, but i'm an old timer, over the years we have fought and complained about the way things are, and about some of the corruption that goes on, but, it always falls on deaf ears. Even when someone goes to the council meetings and speaks, it seems like they don't care, so you become accustomed to it, why waste my breath, or my time, we never get anywhere's anyway.

  2. Anonymous January 10, 2010 10:34 PM - you are 100% correct. What you say is often not listened to, it is falling on deaf ears and often those in the place to make the decisions work with a closed mind and have already made their mind up.

    I know it from personal experience as well but from the sounds of it you've been at it a lot longer than I have.

    All that being said, I won't quit because I believe sooner or later someone will listen or someone that might listen and work with an open mind might decide to run for office.

    I am hoping my voice might make a difference in one of the two ways and perhaps both.

    We agree you and I - so we are in sync; I believe others are too. I do it for that reason too.

  3. It is an enormous undertaking to get involved in changing schools. As a parent and a teacher, I still haven't figured out how to even make a dent in the system. Try to change it in the system you teach in and you fear retribution. Try to change it in the system your child attends and you fear teachers treating your child differently, and simply being labeled "one of those parents."

    All the traditional ways you mentioned simply don't work unless you can summon up an army of parents to fight against the institution that taught them to sit and be seen, not heard. Yes, providing an alternative does make sense, but those that make decisions are not intune with current progressive practices and research so decisions are made on tradition. It is why we are simply sinking deeper into a fact based testing culture instead of making our schools a place in which kids enjoy deep thinking, creativity, and find inspiration to courageously collaborate and communicate with people from around the world.

    Sorry..I think I deviated from budget talk ;)