Op/Ed: Darien Education Association urges Board of Ed to use surplus to pre-buy
The following letter is addressed to the Darien Board of Education and all Darien Public School stakeholders.
As I prepared this public statement, I felt deeply saddened and disappointed by the fact that I would be in a position where I had to defend our schools against so many possible cuts to positions and programs; (all of which will have a tremendous impact on the teaching and learning of students). The Darien Education Association does not often take such a public stance as this, but we cannot sit back quietly when the quality of the education at Darien Public Schools is on the line.
While the DEA understands and appreciates the financial issues presented by our current global crisis, our role first and foremost is to protect and support the education and success of our students. We have watched and listened with dismay as the Board of Education and Board of Finance demonstrate a lack of ability to come up with a creative and unified way to achieve a compromise to realize both the Board of Finance’s goal of helping the taxpayers and the Board of Ed’s goal of providing the best of the best services to our students and families.
While there were some creative suggestions made and discussed, these were rejected and discussions between boards showed an unwillingness by some members to be collaborative. The perception of the DEA is that there are some hidden agendas at play in these negotiations. These special interests are working against a solution that seems to be a good choice and would save cuts.
The solution is this: there is a surplus from this year’s budget. This money has already been paid to the town by the taxpayers and allocated to support the education of our students. This surplus could allow for the Board of Ed to pre-buy a significant amount of resources for the 2020-2021 school year. These resources were voted on and agreed to by you prior to the COVID-19 crisis. These were the resources that the Board of Ed and Central Services deemed would provide the best and most appropriate educational programming for our students. If there is a way to buy some of those resources now, the DEA can’t understand why we would not choose that solution.
The following cuts have been proposed by the Superintendent in order to achieve the nearly one and a half million dollar cut to our school budget:
○ Eliminating a Middlesex Middle School library media specialist position and adding a library paraprofessional
○ Eliminating an elementary art teacher, making elementary art itinerant
○ Cutting the Middlesex Middle School intramural program
○ Cutting the Darien High School intramural program
○ Cutting ninth grade Gifted and Talented Achievers Program
○ Cutting all elementary clubs and councils (i.e., Student Council, Safety Patrol)
○ Cutting some DHS Clubs and Councils
○ Cutting the DHS Freshman Sports program
○ Cutting third grade strings
These programs are instrumental in making Darien Public Schools a superior district. While some of you want to compare our work with other towns to make our actions comparable to theirs, the DEA feels this is a mistake. We do not want to be comparable. We believe that DPS should stand out, be pioneers for creativity, and offer the best tools and services. If we make that commitment to our students, we can provide teaching and learning that allows our students a cutting edge path to establishing 21st century skills and social emotional supports that allow them to be empathetic, proactive, and productive citizens after graduation. How we invest in our schools is crucially important. We are in a crisis, and for that reason, we should look to the tools and resources of our town and realize how fortunate we are to still have many valuable resources.
The DEA should not have to explain that these cuts hurt kids. Our Library Media Specialists have been paramount to a successful eLearning experience. Each one has gone above and beyond to ensure that students, teachers, and families were supported, trained, and offered the right tools to be successful. We will need them even more as we plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Art is a skill our kids need, and a consistent teacher committed to each building will ensure that students' social emotional and creative needs are supported. Talented and Gifted at the High School supports a group of students who seek an additional outlet and allows our programming to stand out above other districts. Elementary Clubs and Councils give students leadership opportunities that they may never be able to experience in other grade levels.
They also provide the foundation for understanding student government. Intramurals at all grade levels provide students with opportunities to participate in sports. Intramurals impact hundreds of DPS students. Freshman sports and third grade strings are foundational programs that give students access to express themselves creatively and physically at the earlier stages of both elementary and high school. Freshman sports also help students transition to the high school in a big way.
There are many other suggested cuts- whether they be from the Superintendent, Board of Finance, or other Board of Education members. Let me be clear —we can shave a little here and a little there, but to achieve a cut of over one million dollars, you will have to cut something that will have a negative impact on teaching and learning in the 2020-21 school year, and possibly have a continued impact.
The DEA has done everything that has ever been asked of the teachers and then pushed its teachers to go above and beyond the expectation. We do this because we are committed to the students and families of Darien and believe that you deserve our best. We would expect the Board of Ed to extend the same level of commitment to its teachers and its students.
A vote against pre-buying would demonstrate a slight to not only the teachers, but more importantly the students of Darien Public Schools. We have the funds, we can make responsible cuts if we have a smaller number to reach, the money was allocated to the schools and should be used for the schools.
If we are going to be able to provide the best quality services during the crisis, transitioning out of the crisis, and when we are “back to normal” after this crisis, we need to have as many resources as possible to give to students. Teachers also need to feel that our charge is supported. The politics of the Board of Ed should be in the best interest of students, and that is why we implore you to vote in favor of pre-buying materials.
Thank you for your consideration.
President of the Darien Education Association
The Darien Education Association is the teachers’ union.