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To the Editor:

A decade ago the Bristol Public School system was one of the highest performing urban school districts in the state. Its success was a source of pride for residents and made the schools a destination for teachers looking to start a career. Today the district is on the path of decline, something that is common knowledge to those working in the schools. For those who doubt, take a quick perusal of minutes from this year’s Board of Education meetings and examine the mass resignations and retirements. Some of Bristol’s finest teachers and administrators are jumping ship before it completely sinks.

What went wrong? Initially it was the global economic downturn. School unions did their part, with administrators, custodians and cafeteria workers making concessions. Teachers also took pay freezes over the last two contracts. Programs were cut, staff was reduced and many of the gains made before the recession were lost. Momentum carried us for a while, but now we are running on fumes. In April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that private sector jobs had finally made improvements to pre-recession levels, yet the public sector is still lagging behind the recovery. In Bristol, for example, the schools have remained bare bones. This year, the per pupil expenditure for Bristol Public Schools was lower that any of the surrounding towns except for Wolcott, and was dead last of the 15 cities in our District Reference Group. The DRG is the state Department of Education’s method of comparing districts of similar socioeconomic status.

Considering that the school system and property values are linked, helping the schools succeed benefits everyone by keeping property values up and the mill rate down.

If schools continue to falter, property values will plummet and the mill rate will need to be raised in order to recoup the loss. At that point it won’t matter how much it gets raised, as the middle class will flee and the city will fall into intractable decay. Education isn’t an expense; it’s an investment. City leaders would do best to remember this as they consider voting on the school budget May 19.

David Hayes

President

Bristol Federation of Teachers

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