The arbitration panel made the right choice when it decided not to give members of the administrators’ union raises this coming year. While the $68,000 that would have come with that increase is a small figure within the $90 million budget, what it would have represented was something quite large — an unnecessary obstacle that would only deepen a widespread distrust among parents toward the school district.
But there are other obstacles that could impede moving forward. Public efforts seem to indicate changes are being made to make sure the problems that occurred in the district are never repeated again. However, some worry that the “insatiable parents” viewpoint, as pointed out by the former special education director, and others, may once again prevail as the dust begins to settle. Time does not only heal, it can also enable us to forget the mistakes of the past — mistakes we can and should learn from. Will promises of new implemented policies and a change in the culture fall by the wayside as budget pressures once again begin to rise?
Educating children with disabilities is not simply the law. It’s a moral duty. Educating them with excellence, as is Darien’s self-imposed charge with all its students, is an act of compassion. It’s a truly sad day when an act of compassion is undermined by those who are more concerned with financial prudence than helping their fellow human beings.
Yes, efficiency is important. And yes, some parents abuse the system. Welfare and social services and Medicare are also abused. But that doesn’t mean we, as a society, should look at everyone receiving this help under the same lens. It certainly doesn’t mean that we should do anything less than offer them the best possible assistance we can provide.
Would we expect anything less for ourselves should we fall into hard times? Would we expect our children to receive anything less than an excellent education, in a town that has enough resources to ensure that all kids, regardless of ability, maximize their potential?
Sure, some parents are the reason their children need special education. Does that mean we just allow these kids to fail? Or do we step up to the plate, and help raise these children together? Are we a town of 20,000 islands, or are we a village that raises each other’s children? Should we nickel and dime every pencil we buy for these kids, or do we give them whatever they need to find success?
If we spend too much, what is the result? Higher taxes? Darien is the third wealthiest town in Connecticut, yet its mill rate is half the state average. It is 26th in the state in per pupil spending on public education, and it is 43rd among the 169 state municipalities in its reliance on property tax revenues.
What if special education expenses were rising so rapidly because, for years, Darien under-funded it? Perhaps the perception of special education expenses running out of control is like saying the family that at one time couldn’t afford food but is now able to eat, yet their neighbors now look upon them as if they were gluttons. They have what they need, but it’s perceived as excessive because when compared to how they were, with nothing, it actually is excessive.
For a system to work, it takes a little faith in our fellow humans to do the right thing. When we expect fraud and abuse, there is fraud and abuse. When we expect perfection, there will be still be fraud and abuse, but perhaps that high expectation will decrease the number of instances. Perhaps if we acted in compassion instead of fear or anger, perhaps there would be less fraud and abuse.
An excellent special education program is an act of compassion. It’s not the law, but it is within Darien’s reach. So many places do not have the reach of Darien. So many places will send their disabled children on a path to nowhere. Darien can send its kids toward their dreams. Would you expect anything less for your own children?