Tom Kelly: No "Political Football" with Education

by Tom Kelly

I preface my remarks by saying that while I am one member of the Board of Education, I do not speak on behalf of the Board of Education and my comments are my own opinion.

At the Board of Finance Budget vote, Republicans defeated a motion to add $873,000 to the Board of Education budget for Full-Day Kindergarten.  The Board of Finance ultimately approved an increase (3.47%) which was exactly what the First Selectman recommended.  Chairman Elaine Hammers made the following statement in regards to Full-Day Kindergarten:  "The decision rests with the Board of Education. They determine how they will spend their funds. We have always emphasized [that] it is their choice."

In my opinion, Ms. Hammers’ statement is the height of political maneuvering and posturing.  Just two weeks ago, Superintendent of Schools Ralph Iassogna stood in front of the Board of Finance.  He explicity stated in clear words that it would take an increase of 4.25% to 4.50% in the Board of Education budget in order for him to recommend proceeding with Full-Day Kindergarten. 

As John Adams said, “Facts are stubborn things.” The Republicans knew that 3.47% was not enough, according to the Superintendent.  Despite this being a campaign promise and central part of their platform in 2009 and 2011, the Republicans still refuse to provide the funding to make it happen. 

When you hear the Republicans talk about their commitment to education, don’t believe it.  Participation fees (a tax on parents) have been increased across the board. The schools are not as clean because we have fewer custodians.  Less reading teachers.  Computer paraprofessionals were cut in an age when computer literacy is an essential skill.  The list of cuts on their watch is long.

The 400 children who are going to enter Kindergarten in the fall and their parents deserve better.  My message to Mr. Herbst and his Republican team is this:  Stop playing political football with education.  Keep your promises!  Fund Full-Day Kindergarten or stop promising it to Trumbull parents.  Parents need to be able to plan ahead for the Fall. 

Finally, these comments will be in the public eye for only minutes before some will attack me and say that I am also playing politics with education.  To that, I will say that the political reality of these difficult economic times is that advocating for appropriate funding for education is not politically expedient. Education funding is being cut by Republicans all over this country, and they are proud of it and continue to do so.  I advocate for proper funding for education because it’s the right thing to do.  We only get one chance to educate Trumbull’s children, and we need to get it right.  These children need to be prepared to compete in a global economy and we need to give them the best chance for success in their lives.  That message may not win in the voting booth, but I’d rather lose an election than win while diminishing the quality of our school system.


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