Commentary: Push for full-day kindergarten will bring costs for Shelton

After reading the case presented by a Shelton parent for all-day kindergarten, I feel I have to sound a note of caution. I’ve seen this happen before.

Before moving to Shelton a few ago, I lived most of my life in Westchester County, N.Y. My town had changed as many people moved up from the Bronx and other troubled areas.

It was often a financial stretch, so they chose our town in part due to its lower taxes. Yet, once there, they started demanding more of the school system, driving taxes up.

Expansions to curricula, dozens of after-school activities, a TV studio and a special needs occupational therapy facility were just some of the additions.

Staff and budgets increased

Not surprisingly, this was encouraged by teachers and administrators, whose numbers ballooned, as did their salaries and benefits.

Budgets ran amok. The school system was a bit more than half the size of Shelton’s, yet spent nearly $70 million — more than the rest of the entire town, including police, fire, sanitation, highways, etc.

The yearly cost per student for K-12 rose to nearly $22,000 — more than annual tuition at a state university, room and board included.

The result: A modest home on an eighth-acre lot often carried taxes of  $15,000 to 18,000 or higher. It was insane and it was one of the reasons we, and many others, left New York.

We had to do it, too

The argument for it all was the same: The neighboring town was doing it, so we have to, too. The fact that the demographics of that neighboring town (extremely wealthy) differed significantly from our own (middle class) wasn’t considered.

People forgot why they moved to our town instead of the neighboring town in the first place — affordability.

The same trend appears to be emerging in Shelton. We chose Shelton as our new home, in part, because of its more rational balance between taxes and services. Monroe residents often tell me, “You were smart to pick Shelton; Monroe’s taxes are killing me.”

Many in Shelton either don’t have kids or their kids left the school system years ago, yet they’re still paying for it. And most are okay with that — as long as it isn’t pushed too far.

Parents or the education system?

There are many activities that young children engage in that can be characterized as “learning” and contribute to their development. The real question is where the responsibility of the parents should end and the public education system begin in providing these activities.

Should basic social skills be learned in a formal classroom or through play at home? How about learning the ABCs, telling time and simple math?

Aren’t any of these addressed through activities at home any more, or should taxpayers be expected to provide them by paying for salaries and benefits of more staff, classroom space, and support services like busing?

Shelton should not fall into the trap of trying to keep up with the Joneses, or in this case, the Monroes, of the world.

William O’Leary is a Shelton resident.