Let the next Connecticut town that uses false economies to shortchange the education budget remember Bloomfield and think twice.
From 1990 to 1999, according to school board finance chairman James Michel, the town council increased the school district's operating budget from $21.9 million to $22.75 million - a minuscule total of $852,000. That comes to $95,000 a year or 0.44 percent.
What reasonable person would expect that the cost of personnel, supplies, utilities, fuel and other expenses would increase so little over such a long period of time?
Not surprisingly, school officials responded to rising costs by deferring maintenance on buildings, halting the purchase of new textbooks and the updating of curriculum and discontinuing advanced placement courses in the high school.
It is no coincidence that a corresponding drop in student achievement and scores on standardized tests occurred during those years or that the period was marked by an often-hostile relationship between the town council and the school board.
As a result, school buildings now need $94.6 million worth of renovation and council members had trouble putting together a referendum that would yield enough yes votes to allow them to secure money and launch the project.
In a May 23 referendum, residents voted 1,900 to 1,191 to support the project. But under a rule requiring that the yes votes total at least 15 percent of registered voters, the final tally was 147 votes shy of the maximum needed for passage - hence the logjam.
Had the council acted responsibly during the 1990s, it would very likely not be in this mess.
Plans call for the town to stage a second referendum, perhaps on Election Day in November. Friends of Bloomfield schools should leave nothing to chance and start beating the drums for support now.
Local governments must do their best to provide adequate funds for education regardless of the political consequences. Strangling schools, as Bloomfield proved, is not the answer.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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