“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” (President Franklin D. Roosevelt)
The recent controversies about the Amity Regional School District budget demonstrate the poignancy of these words. Indeed, in this era of unlimited sources of information and ideas, we and our children need to be educated on how to discern facts from misleading or false statements and how to identify reliable sources of information. This is crucial and increasingly difficult.
One budget-related topic where confusion about the facts was widespread concerned surplus in the Amity budget. Some were critical that there were yearly surpluses and others focused on the purported cost to taxpayers of the surpluses. Amity Board of Education members explained various reasons for surpluses, including the unpredictability of special education costs and variability in state grants.
As to the cost of carrying a surplus, the oft-repeated claim that Amity had a $3M surplus for each of the last 4 years and that the cost to taxpayers was $12M was blatantly wrong in two respects. Amity Board of Education members explained why. First, it confuses a surplus with an expense. It is the same $3M that gets carried over year to year. Likewise, the cost to taxpayers of carrying a surplus is at most the interest lost on the money. Generously estimating a 3% interest rate over those years, the cost would be $90,000 per year (for all 3 towns) – approximately $6-$10 per year per household.
What we learned from this: there needs to be clearer, accessible information made widely available concerning how the Amity budget is developed, why some amount of surplus may be necessary and whether it has been the correct amount, and why funding the schools to assure a top-notch education is so important for our children and to our community.
Another controversy about the budget centered on hiring a part-time Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) instructional coach. Opponents claimed that this would foster an “us versus them” culture in the school, and worse. Here again, Amity Board of Education members explained their commitment to addressing inclusion and equity “in a way that is positive for everyone…[and] makes ALL children feel like they belong at school. Equity is about allowing EVERY child to reach their full potential.”
What we learned from this: some in the community are not as committed as others to providing an inclusive and affirming environment for all members of our school community; others are confused about the goals and importance of DEI principles; and the majority of us are firmly committed to the goals of DEI. DEI reflects our increasingly diverse Town and nation and expresses the values that make our community robust, welcoming and healthy. We must continue to educate our neighbors about the need for and goals of DEI.
We in Woodbridge have long demonstrated the high value we place on education through our budget: approximately 2/3 of our spending goes to supporting our schools. Yet even this fundamental community commitment appeared to be under attack during the recent Amity Budget controversy.
What we learned from this: there is a large group of committed Woodbridge residents who are ready to step up and come together to ensure that our already fine schools are even stronger, more supportive, and more inclusive places of learning. These are the future leaders of Woodbridge, and with their engagement, our Town will continue to thrive as the vibrant, welcoming community we all call home.