Op-Ed: Former A&T, BOE members call for immediate public budget meetings
As former members of the Board of Apportionment and Taxation (A&T) and the Board of Education (BoE), we endorse holding the public budget meetings immediately.
The situation with the Covid-19 pandemic has created more economic and healthcare uncertainty than ever in our lifetime, which dictates the need for more discussion, coordination, and understanding, not less. This is a time to plan and thoroughly evaluate the alternatives and assess the risks. We must not eliminate the very meetings that allow the city and the public to understand what resources are needed during this difficult time. The Board of Alderman (BoA) even states that this is not a time for “business as usual,” but they refuse to assess budget needs until after the budget is accepted. That makes no sense.
We should use the budget workshops as an opportunity to identify exactly what is being done and, more importantly, what is not being done in the school system and key city departments. These discussions must be strategic, in-depth, and provide much more insight than just understanding each line item expense. The goal must be to create a unified Covid-19 response plan. In our opinion, without these discussions, each department will be left to their own interpretation and we will be unprepared come the fall.
The school system is a particularly complex problem and we must be assured that plans are in place for reopening and adequate resources to support that plan are funded. We have already seen the possible impact of the flat-funded budget, with a possible reduction of 32 positions. That eventuality would have a deleterious effect on the city’s school system, student performance and the market attractiveness of our city. Teacher reductions are just the tip of the iceberg. The larger more important problem is, due to looming uncertainty, the BoE has not evaluated or quantified the effect that Covid-19 has on the opening of school in the fall or its impact on student learning. Receiving funding from the CARES Act and ECS is a positive step but a holistic solution is needed. Simply incrementally increasing a flat-funded budget at this point is just not prudent.
Any BoE plan and budget must evaluate several important school system problems. 1.) Assess the learning gap and recovery plan caused by the rush to move to distance learning in March. One of us, as an educator, can tell you firsthand that issue will cause future problems for students. We must understand and address how an unplanned conversion to distance learning has impacted students academically. Many schools are already planning on rotating in-person and remote learning classes in the fall. Are our teachers adequately trained? Do we have required technology for all students? How successful was the conversion to on-line? 2.) We must have a Covid-19 school opening plan that ensures the safety and well-being of students, faculty and staff. This will be an extensive effort as any plan must encompass classroom distancing, disinfecting, transportation, scheduling, sports, food delivery, testing and tracing. These changes all require resources.
These are precautions that we have never dealt with and they must be addressed. The costs to comply will be substantial and preparation requires a very detailed set of plans well before school opens. Adopting a wait and see approach as suggested by the BoA will not better prepare us, it will only decrease the time needed to plan and implement these changes.
This is not the time to embrace the status quo. This is the time to look forward, act decisively, be proactive, and be ready to adapt to this new norm.
David Gioiello and Wayne Bragg are members of the Shelton Democratic Town Committee.