Published in the Spectrum, May 6, 2005:
Art Cummings recently identified some thought-provoking suggestions designed to improve the state of civility in our community.Below is my Top Ten List of suggestions to further improve in this area:
1) When we talk about a budget cut, it should mean that a budget was cut.Words mean things and are important. Some reporters will tell you that they are only quoting a board member, but then fail to explain that a budget was never reduced.Some say this is just semantics and everyone knows the truth, but this is a false premise. When people read that a budget was cut, they assume that a budget was cut.
2) Town officials who use unfounded rhetoric to raise taxes should be held accountable. Rhetoric is a powerful tool used to influence decisions. It is critical that it be grounded in verifiable data or empirical evidence. If it is not, please refrain from comment.
3) Only the superintendent should be seated at the table with our Board of Education. Currently, numerous administrators sit at the table with our elected officials. This may seem minor, but it defines the power structure for how decisions are made and the lines of authority are blurred.
4) The PTO should stop acting as a political action committee for the teachers and administrators. Most education associations have political action committees.If members of the PTO want to assist, I'm certain that the political action committee will let them volunteer. This allows PTO members to express their will without using money and resources donated to the PTO for other purposes.
5) The practice of having "Pride Night" at schools on the same night that we vote on our budget referendum, should cease. It is a transparent attempt to influence the outcome of the vote and unnecessarily exposes the town to State Election Enforcement Commission violations.Comments made in a public facility, in such close proximity to a polling place by someone who has a monetary stake in the outcome could easily cross the line of legality. Having this practice sanctioned by the Board of Education diminishes its credibility.
6) An endowment fund needs to be set up to benefit our schools without having strings attached by the administration. Clearly there are many in the community who feel school spending should be increased.This would give them an outlet for their beliefs without infringing on each and every taxpayer. If a person wants to donate money to the band then they should be able to donate money to the band.
7) Town officials and taxpayers need to understand that the cost of doing business, including tax burden, is the prime motivator that drives economic development in a community.Town officials have recently stated that business won't come to New Milford if our schools aren't performing. Kimberly Clark and Nestle's did not leave, nor would they stay, because of our test scores or per pupil spending.
8) Supporters of increased education spending need to stop comparing New Milford to neighboring towns that aren't comparable, like Ridgefield. The median household income in Ridgefield, according the US Census Bureau at http://factfinder.census.gov, is $107,351, and the median household income in New Milford is $65,354, a difference of $41,997 per household, annually.Comparing these towns as if they are similar to justify increased spending and salaries is either uninformed at best or deceitful at worst.
9) The town needs to reevaluate its role as the premier regional special education provider.Taking a town with the demographics and median household income of New Milford and transforming it into the premier regional provider of special education creates undue financial pressure that other communities don't have to endure; in fact they benefit from it at the expense of New Milford children and taxpayers.Perhaps Ridgefield or another community with a significantly higher median household income could better bear the financial burden of such an undertaking.
10) Please, become informed and go to the polls and vote.I think that these simple suggestions could go a long way in bringing civility back to our town.