Letter: School system needs checks and balances

To the Editor:

I’ve been reading the back-and-forth over the school budget with chagrin. For me, it’s déjà vu all over again.

We fled Westchester County and N.Y. state years ago, primarily due to the tax-and-spend madness that had taken hold. A major component of this was school spending run amok. We witnessed our town become an education factory, driving out the middle class, seniors and long-term residents as new arrivals demanded more and more of the schools. It was like being invaded by the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and followers, only this time their religion was education at any cost.

Worse, the attitude among newcomers was “Hey, we’ll bite the bullet and pay huge taxes for the 15 years or so it takes to get our kids through the schools, then we’ll get out of here.” They had no allegiance to the community; they just wanted to get all they could out of it. It was like someone attending a group dinner, ordering the most expensive things on the menu and then slipping out the back when the bill came.

The arguments I’m seeing here are the same: we owe it to the kids, we have to keep up and we’ll benefit through higher property values. The problem is the extension of the parental “we” to the collective “we” of the entire community. There are a couple of things to remember here. First, the number of taxpaying households with children in the schools is in the minority. Many more taxpayers are contributing to the schools than use them.

Second, while parents might be willing to endure a bigger tax bite to provide more in the schools for their children, no matter how high their tax bill they will ultimately only pay a small fraction of the total cost to educate their kids in the schools. So, parents ought to be careful before suggesting that taxpayers are somehow being stingy. Actually, I believe that most thinking people understand the value of chipping in for education, and not just to preserve their property value. There are cheaper areas across the state and the country where schools are not a major investment. But you probably wouldn’t want to live in any of them.

It comes down to a matter of balance. In N.Y., that was lacking. The school district was a separate entity from the town, with its own budget and power to levy taxes. The system was rigged so that budgets passed virtually unchecked, so they continued to escalate. When you hang a sign around your neck saying “Will pay any amount for education,” there will be plenty of vendors and consultants, as well as teachers’ unions and administrators, more than happy to take your money.

Thank goodness Connecticut has a different system and that, at least in Shelton, there is a city administration to provide a check on those impulses. Our whole governmental system relies on checks and balances; why should the school system be immune?

William O’Leary

Shelton