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Big tax increase wont aid Fairfield schools

by Nicolas S. Martin Despite the endless harping of columnists and government commissions, Americans seem in no hurry to arrest the continued erosion of educational standards. As long as our basketball is world-class, were content with fourth-rate schools. Here at home, cozy Fairfield has managed to sleepwalk its way through the MTV decade along with the rest of the country. Like so many other shrubs, we are planted squarely in the median of the national freeway to academic mediocrity. We may be stupid, but at least were not different. Just how effective the educational apanese students establishment has been at removing our score much better on capacity to think will be tested in the upcoming primary. On that occasion tests than ours, even we will have the opportunity to grease the palms of the organized syndicate though Japan spends 83 which controls the schools. A yes percent less per pupil. vote on the Fairfield School Levy is an endorsement of a scholastic policy Maybe we should send which, with a little fine-tuning, will doom our students to the academic atFairfields kids to Tokyo tainment level of, say, Botswana. for schooling. We would Perhaps you want your child to attend college as a stepping stone to save $25 million a year success in the world job market. Tough luck. As one school official confided and still buy a better to me, The bottom line is that our education for our scores are down a little bit, over the past decade. Students in the 1990-91 children. school year scored lower on both the math and English portions of the ACT What else has changed in Fairfield schools (college admissions test) than students in 1981over the past decade? Compared to the 18 per82. Now, that wont prevent your child from cent increase in pupils, we have experienced getting into college, where the standards have a 53 percent increase in administrative staff. been conveniently lowered to accommodate the We have also had a 255 percent increase in increasing ignorance of applicants. It just means special services staff, and a 340 percent increase that little Jennifer will get the stuffing kicked in the number of teachers aids While the increased number of teachers out of her when she tries to compete with some kid from Singapore who actually learned some- has been relatively modest at 20 percent, the thing in school that might be useful to an employer. salary hikes for all teachers have been anything How much are we paying for this increased but modest. The average salary for a Fairfield ignorance? In 1981-82 there were 7133 students teacher has jumped by 67 percent in the past in the system and the school budget was a mere 10 years, about twice the rate of inflation. For $13,382,000, which works out to $1876 per stu- the rest of Americans, inflation-adjusted income dent. In 1991-92, the number of students had has increased hardly at all over the same period, grown to 8440, an increase of 18 percent. Mean- especially in industries which have done as poorly while the budget has hit $30,148,789, a breath- as the schools. The average yearly pay of a Fairfield teacher taking 225 percent increase in the same period. We are now spending $3572 per badly educated is now $31,419. The average per capita income of all Fairfield residents was $11,680 in 1991. student. Remember, students of almost all indus- The average income of a full-time American trial nations are better educated than ours, based worker in 1989 was $28,605, without the luxury on standardized tests. And the perpetual cry of of three months off in the summer, and with the education establishment is that we are not benefits inferior to those provided to teachers. spending enough money to buy quality schools. Do other countries spend more than we do to produce their superior results? Hardly. In 1985, U. S. expenditures per pupil were 47 percent greater than West Germany, 66 percent greater than France and Australia, 74 percent greater than the United Kingdom, andinhale deeply83 percent greater than Japan. At that ratio, if we sent Fairfields kids to Tokyo to be educated we could save about $25 million a year, they would come back smarter than Hamiltons students, and learn a second language, too. It probably doesnt surprise you that a 225 percent increase in budget was not sufficient to satisfy a system with a lusty appetite for tax dollars. Perhaps Sesame Streets Cookie Monster is the educational role model for 90s. To boost that 225 percent increase, fellow hostages, we will now pony up another $3,280,552 per year, or else. What does the or else include? All busing for grades 9-12 will be wiped out. Extra-Duty, Extra-Curricular, ExtendedTime Contracts (athletic coaches, for instance) will be slashed. Field trips will be nixed. Bowing to public relations, some administrative salaries and positions are destined to be cut, but not nearly enough. After a decade of massive increases in expenditures and sliding test scores, we are informed that only another whopping tax increase can prevent vicious cuts. And who gets to do the surgery? Why, the very same people who botched the job in the first place: the school board and the administration. Official jargon obscures the size of this tax increase behind discussion of mills and annual yields. The truth is, though, that this levy is a tax increase of about 16 percent, which is high even by Washington standards. If you own a home worth $30,000 you presently pay $258 in school taxes a year. If the levy passes that will increase to $303. If your home is worth $50,000, your school tax will go from $430 to 505. If you own a home worth $150,000, your tax burden will increase from $1292 to $1497. (If you rent, dont imagine that you escape property tax increases. They are merely buried in your rent.) Asia and Latin America are booming. The Europeans are moving to economic union soon, and Eastern Europe is free of communism. Meanwhile the American economy is dead in the water, saddled by gargantuan deficits, regulatory strangulation, and a poorly educated workforce. Judging by the presidential candidates, the prospects for solving the first two are nil. We can, and better, deal with the inadequacy of the schools here at home right now. The first step is to just say no to extortionate tax increases to feed the same old incompetent education establishment. Then a major housecleaning is needed to remove the political knownothings who perpetuate the problem. Youll know them when you hear them say, Weve made strides, but there is much more we could do if we had the money.

Nicolas Martin is executive director of the Consumer Health Education Council and a resident of Fairfield. A shorter version of this essay previously appeared in the Journal-News.