Part I recap:
“A lot of things can make scores go up. Eight million dollars guarantees nothing, and you offered no guarantees.
Since Hamden schools cannot be sold on their excellence, you are selling your budget on their decline. It should be pointed out that scores were on the decline when you were at the high school. When you were principal and Erin Bailey, now an assistant superintendent, was a “data facilitator,” only a quarter of the students were on grade level, yet 97% of the school graduated. Classes were buckling under bad behavior. You made such a hash of the stewardship of that high school that Jodi Goeler, your predecessor, did what bosses do: booted you to Central Office.”
Part II: Tax dollars are easy money.
There are never any strings attached, but at some point, a tax increase is theft and the injection of more tax dollars into a teetering system is tantamount to a bailout, a taxpayer rescue.
Your budget seems a bit rich, if you will pardon the pun. You are pursuing the wrong thing in the wrong way. The answer is not money. The answer is accountability. When you were principal of that high school, you did not make those kids accountable. You always sided with the kids and came down on the teacher. Your successor, Nadine Gannon, has perfected that art. Soon we will have students urinating in front of the school. That is your legacy.
You didn’t get the job done. Remember the time students stampeded through the school, knocking down teachers who tried to stop them, and two teachers, Marie Rondini and Josephine Liu, got hurt? Or how about the April 21, 2014 op-ed you penned for the New Haven Register, trying to refute their story about gang activity at the high school? What you do not acknowledge is that decades of lax administration have contributed to the, as you put it in the New Haven Independent, “behavioral challenges,” the schools face. It is impossible to talk about these “challenges ” without acknowledging all the instances teachers were ignored, criticized, put down, and humiliated in matters of student discipline. The root of your mistake was the failure to think of the bigger picture. There can be no genuine academic progress without good academic behavior. Our students come into class like they are at a carnival. The miasmic mess we are now in can’t all be blamed on Covid, and it should not be borne by the taxpayer.
It’s blowback from poor leadership. The medieval Persian philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazali once said that tyranny was better than anarchy. One may loathe a tyrant, but disorder is to be loathed even more. Indeed, anarchy is terrifying. This slack-jawed leadership has to have an expiration date and these kids need to be put in check, or as your chum, Walter Morton IV, suggested, schools can be closed and personnel laid off. Our problems cannot be fixed by throwing money at them. They can only be fixed with order.
Hamden High School can be fixed with a seismic change in how it is managed. Students would not be behaviorally challenged if they knew that they would face consequences. If they were held accountable and had to start producing, you would need not need eight million dollars.
Taxpayer money is sacred. It is not to be gifted to friends and lovers. The insights of The Albatross have been before your eyes for months. In my column, “Leeches, ” I discussed the free hand public school superintendents have with taxpayer money. Jodi Goeler’s hiring of nine administrators at approximately $150,000 each when the job was previously done by department chairs for $5,000 is a textbook example of a superintendent’s unprincipled use of money.
I predicted that you would attempt a massive tax hike, because a budget increase is a tax hike, and I was right. I also laid out ways to save money. Doing away with those directors saves more than a million a year. Dan Cocchiola, a director, left two weeks ago. Edin Equality outlined the problems with him in other articles for The Continental Tribune. You certainly do not need to waste a $150,000 replacing him.
Over the last two weeks, at least eight Hamden High School students have been suspended for fighting. On March 23, after school, our students were again fighting at Panera’s. The “climate specialists” that you hired were supposed to stave off these problems. School climate specialists in Connecticut earn, on average, $80,000 per annum. Where is the return?
On November 14, 2022, Principal Gannon emailed staff about a new job posting: Instructional Specialist for Lireracy Integration. What, in heavens, is that? How much does it pay?
No school district would be complete without all the “specialists,” “facilitators,” and “coordinators.” The job titles emphasize the bureaucratic nature of education. Eliminate these busy work jobs.
You have three human resouces assistants when there used to be one. This represents a threefold increase and begs the question why. What, one has to wonder, do all these assistants do and why do you need so much assistance?
You spent a half million dollars on Clifford Beers, trying to cure everyone’s anxieties? Is that where the Covid dollars went? (Where did the Covid dollars go?) I am filled with negative wonder at the magnitude of the mental health grift. Is everyone having a constant nervous breakdown? The core purpose of education is academic, not therapeutic. There is nothing wrong with these kids. They feel anxious and depressed because they don’t do anything. That is natural. Their brains are warning them of the risks of slacking. Meaningful contributions, in this case doing their schoolwork, would make them less anxious. Send them to me, The Albatross, the champion of bucking up and working hard, and I will fix their mental health issues. And the great bird won’t send Hamden a bill.
Workshops do not come cheap. Stop lavishing money on consultants, especially those who advise you to show morally deranged “mosquito” videos. Stop.
Citizenship is a burden. That burden should not fall only on those who go to work and pay the taxes. Everyone has to contribute. Too many of our students at the high school do not. They do not pull their own weight, but they do pull their peers down. Teachers are expected to pull everything for them, and as a result, a lot of nice kids do not get the attention they need and deserve. We keep lowering and lowering the bar for students who won’t even try to reach it. Put the kids who do absolutely nothing but eat and play on their phones in a room and let them sit in peace. Hire a monitor to look after them.
Private schools, museums, and concert halls do not enjoy the lush fruit of taxpayers. They hold fundraisers. If money is a constant problem, the revenue stream can be increased through fundraisers, or a wealthy benefactor.
Have these kids make something that can be sold. Schools can be places where things are made and sold. That way, your directors will actually have something to direct.
Rent out rooms in the schools as event spaces during the summer.
Hold an annual fundraiser, say, a black-tie ball in the gym. Tuxedo the admin, have Principal Gannon mix libations for thirsty guests, serve small plates and desserts, have a little dancing, charge $10,000 a head. For $25,000, host a grand banquet.
Or you could print money, like the Fed. Anything, anything, but these Viking raids on people’s wallets.
This country was founded on resisting illegitimate taxes. A peaceful protest needs to be held on a workday when you will be in your office. A liberal democracy is a social contract, but there is no contract with dictators, or school superintendents.
You and your budget are independent of town government and accountability. This is far from perfect. The right of the taxpayer not to be diddled out of his money should not be subject to the whims of a superintendent.
Eight million dollar increase. Have you relinguished all claim to seriousness? Tax payers are not your debit cards. Stop looking at them as chumps. An eight million dollar increase insults the taxpayer in every possible way. We need to be reverent to the people who give us so much and get so little in return. You asked, at the “Emergency Meeting ” on March 9, that we consider what is happening in the country. The country is on the verge of recession.
New York University economist Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the 2008 crash, said, “It is an extremely dangerous moment, because there is now significant stress in some parts of the U.S. banking system at a time when inflation is still too high.” He predicts severe recession this year. We must not have the reckless audacity to ask for more. That budget seems oblivious to people who have lived in Hamden for years, perhaps generations, oblivious to inflation; to the price of fuel; the shortage of eggs. A budget should be ethical. Taxpayers do not sleep on beds made of money. We must not strip their cupboards bare. Let’s not destroy them through an irrational faith in money.
Superintendent Highsmith, The world is full of failures. Not every problem is fixable and not every problem can be fixed with money. Money cannot fix Hamden Public Schools.