The blind men and the elephant in the room

To the Editor:

In May, the buck stops with us, your neighborhood legislative representatives. We approve the final budget, which determines Fairfield’s new tax rate in July.

Like the proverbial blind man, each year we grope through a jungle of changing numbers and schedules, mistaking moving parts as separate wholes unto themselves. Our peaceful, friendly suburb becomes a battleground of false choices: Are parents wrong to want the best education for their children? Are seniors wrong to ask for services to help them stay in the town they built? Are struggling taxpayers wrong to lobby for lower taxes?. No, no and no. But they needn’t work against each other.

The elephant in question is our beloved town. If we don’t see and care for it as an organic whole, it will surely become an endangered species. Right now, we are operating blind because we lack essential blueprints and a unified vision to coordinate them. We need updated long-term strategic plans from the Board of Finance, Planning and Zoning and the Board of Education to guide Fairfield’s master design, fiscal goals and educational policy.

Did you know roughly 92% of Fairfield’s budget is supported by real estate taxes, 87% from homeowners? Did you also know that, by far, our largest employer is the town of Fairfield? Or that our Board of Ed budget (63% of town spending) includes over 501 non-teaching personnel, compared to only 869 actual teachers?

Our elephant cries out for commercial and business development to relieve taxpayers and create private-sector jobs, yet Fairfield is being inundated with high-density residential apartment applications, which place greater demands on school and town services without commensurate tax revenue. How can we substantially control taxes in such an environment?

We have highly-skilled and well-paid managers. Isn’t it their job to live within the means of taxpayers and provide solid services? We have four hard-working elected town boards. Shouldn’t they pull together and demand more from paid managers, including our central education office? Isn’t the heart of excellence in education great teachers and classes?

These should be the very last — not the first — to go if cuts must be made. Can we do without new rugs in the high school media and weight rooms to pay for fifth grade music classes? Can we trim a small percentage of clerical, paraprofessional or custodial personnel to hold onto teachers?

Parents, seniors, taxpayers, take your case directly to the decision-makers on the Board of Ed and school administration. By law we have zero say on what gets cut. Whatever happens, let’s try to remember if we care for the whole elephant, it will take care of us.

 

Ellen Jacob

RTM District 9

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