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Friday, October 24, 2014

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Letter: School spending modest vs. 'peers'

Published 10:15 am, Friday, March 21, 2014
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Last month The New York Times ran an article on the hiring practices of Google, calling out their view that GPAs and test scores are worthless predictors of future success. Good grades are certainly important, they say, but these attributes matter more: learning ability, emergent leadership, intellectual humility and ownership.

Recently Fairfield's Board of Selectmen submitted its 2014-2015 budget request, trimming the amount sought for the education budget to 3.32 percent over the prior year from the 3.86 percent increase sought by the Board of Education.

Well-organized watch-dog groups have urged us to believe that the national rate of inflation should be our spending benchmark rather than using a more localized or education-oriented gauge. Since the credit crisis and subsequent Great Recession, Fairfield's spending on its public schools in the past five years has averaged below the inflation rate (1.54 percent increase for education vs. 1.60 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index) while our public school enrollment increased.

With the crisis now passed, the narrative is changing. These same groups want us to focus on what we can afford to spend and set a top-down budget number from there. That sounds good. But affordability is subjective when you live in one of the Forbes 100 wealthiest towns in the country -- as we do here in Fairfield -- so the debate will inevitably turn to the question of what are we willing to afford? What do we want?

We want a good value.

What does value cost? Fairfield spends $14,907 per pupil (2012-13). Our neighbors and peers, Greenwich ($18,165 without benefits), Westport ($18,173), New Canaan ($17,443) and Darien ($16,719) not only spend as much as 21 percent more than Fairfield, they are asking for 5 to 7 percent increases for next year. They have implemented and are implementing educational initiatives that Fairfield has had to forego due to budget constraints. Let's hope for Fairfield's children that these initiatives don't foster things like learning ability, emergent leadership, intellectual humility and ownership.

If they do, then what will be the cost of falling further behind our peers?

Sixty years of economic research demonstrates how school-system quality is correlated with higher property values, with local funding driving the highest rates of school performance. It is divisive to this town to suggest that households without current school-aged children should desire reduced education spending. As one study states: "Local property values reflect the aggregate demand of buyers... So an implicit demand for schools is reflected in the market value of every residential property." (Mackenzie, University of Delaware.) Maybe under resourcing our schools will result in lower future appreciation of our real estate value compared to our peers? I'd rather not find that out.

The Fairfield school boa5rd's request for a 3.8 percent increase is not only reasonable, it is lean.

We should be proud to stand and deliver such value to our taxpayers and citizens.

Carolyn Trabuco

Fairfield