The referendum on Tuesday will be significant, but not because in and of itself it will dramatically effect spending or taxes one way or the other.

In the past year, the Representative Town Meeting began making much-needed and long-overdue course corrections for the town of Fairfield. RTM members have pushed back on union contracts and taken a long hard look at spending during the budget cycles.

For too long, proposed spending -- especially by the Board of Education -- had gone virtually unchecked, and, regrettably, "rubber stamp" had become business as usual. In the last year, the RTM has set a new direction in the name of fiscal responsibility.

In keeping with that direction, this spring it identified excess in the BOE's proposed budget for 2011-12 and voted to limit the increase over last years' school budget to 3 percent. It is specifically on this vote that the RTM has been challenged.

Proponents of the referendum want to return the one-half of one percent by which the RTM trimmed the school budget it considered. Proponents want to return to business as usual.

During the budget meetings held throughout March and April it became very evident that our school system was long on resources in a number of different areas -- whether compared to school systems in surrounding towns or to nationally accepted standards. Psychologists at the elementary school level and curriculum leaders were among the most noteworthy in this regard. In some cases, Dr. Title and others passively acknowledged the excess.

More often than not, however, the board of education defended its decisions to sustain the levels of excess resources in non-teaching positions, and there-in lies the problem. School board members have lost objectivity. Through their words and actions, they have demonstrated their inability to differentiate between "needs" and "wants." Moreover they have not demonstrated a willingness to embrace many of the process changes suggested in the summation of the independent audit. But to their way of thinking, why should they embrace change? Change is hard, change is difficult. Nobody likes change, and sustaining established processes by simply demanding more tax dollars to support it represents, for them, the path of least resistance.

This is precisely why the budget process is important. By giving department heads budgets by which they must manage, it creates a sense of urgency to be efficient, to work smart and to change how they do business. Dr. Title, our new School Superintendent has a solid business acumen and is well respected. We share that respect for Dr. Title, and we do not doubt that he intends to put his house in order over time. But as we have seen in other school systems and municipalities across the state, when it comes to spending reductions, good intentions and initiatives such as focus groups don't work. Budgets work.

The vote on Tuesday will be significant, as I said. It will have precious little to do with education, as those little red lawn signs around town might suggest. Rather, this referendum is about our resolve to keep excess spending under control. It is about showing our elected officials that we support them when they exercise the fiscal discipline that we expect from them. The vote on this referendum will send a message as to the direction in which Fairfield taxpayers wish to proceed.

The question is whether we will follow the lead taken by the RTM or follow the direction of those who believe that the answer to each and every new challenge is simply throwing more resource at it.

Kate Daniello is a co-founder of We The People of Fairfield, a taxpayers' group whose stated goal is to keep Fairfield affordable for all its residents.