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Educational priorities and town budgets

Considerations regarding the budget for the school year 2019-2020 are underway. As is always the case, there are many suggestions about the opportunities for investment in education with the goal of improving outcomes for students. The Region One Budget for 2018-2019 was $15.8 million (this includes Housatonic Valley Regional High School, Pupil Services and the Central Office budgets), and will not be substantially different for 2019-2020 without input from all the constituencies impacted. That includes the public, teachers, administrators and the other six Region One District school boards, as well as input from our state and local elected officials.

There are many evolving considerations:  

• What should curriculum look like across all of the seven districts, and how do we bring about a shared set of expectations for educational content and level of competency for all students? Is the investment in curriculum mapping between districts beneficial and desirable?

• How do we improve the resilience of our students and work to encourage the development of emotional intelligence? Is an investment in specialized services centered on emotional intelligence seen as timely and impactful?

• What course offerings will have the greatest effect on the “Preparing each child for what comes next” mission? Is an investment in additional teaching staff the best use of resources?

• What role does athletics play, and what sports should be encouraged? Is the investment in a potential expansion of the athletic offerings, such as middle school athletics, a worthwhile investment?

• Consideration should be given to the opportunities that exist in the arts, and the level of support that would need to come from our community for the education and exposure of students as the resources (not simply dollars, but volunteers) become scarcer and scarcer. Does this investment pay returns that are not well recognized, but valuable nonetheless?

• What resources must we deploy to address the incredibly rapidly changing landscape of Information Technology, and its role in building community and disseminating educational curricula? This investment is ongoing as the needs change so quickly.

• Security in our schools is always one of our highest priorities. Does there need to be an investment in facilities or other measures that reflect the times, particularly at HVRHS?

• Educational opportunity for adults in the community is an investment that can aid in growing the skills of people who live in the Region one area. Is this a priority?

• The HVRHS building will require upgrades to its heating controls system – a substantial investment. Is the community better served making those investments all at once, or piecemeal over 5 years at a greater total investment?

This is not an all-exhaustive list, but rather the basis for a discussion about our local education system, and what we want to see from our schools in the “Portrait of a Graduate.”

The communities’ willingness to participate in a conversation regarding priorities will build support for the direction ultimately taken by consensus. The investment decisions made today have long-term impacts, and affect us all one way or another. Education is 61 percent of the annual expenditures for the Town of Sharon, 63 percent for the Town of North Canaan, 61 percent for the Town of Kent, 62 percent for the Town of Cornwall, 58 percent for the Town of Salisbury and 61 percent for the Town of Canaan/Falls Village.

We all need to consider the expected outcomes, and how we achieve those ideals.   

 

Bob Whelan is the Sharon representative to the Region One School Board and current board chair, as well as a member of the Budget Subcommittee of the Region One Board. He also serves as executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Connecticut.