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Scott A. Smith Shelton must do right by school system

January 28, 2019

The following was presented as a speech to the Board of Alderman last year.

For the first 22 years of my professional life, I was in the field of marketing, so I can tell you with certainty that marketing and the markets themselves are almost entirely built on perception. Things are only worth what others are willing to pay for them, whether it is handmade knick-knacks on eBay or a BMW.

The perception of this board and this administration is that public education is not a priority. It is viewed publicly that the public schools in this town are a drain on the public coffers and a mandated hurdle to a continued low mill rate.

“So what?” you might ask. Well, being math-brained myself, I truly believe that numbers do not lie. I bought my house 15 years ago and as of this morning my home is worth essentially what I paid for it all those years ago within a few bucks. In fact, it is precisely worth 0.78 percent more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, prices in 2018 are 36.96 percent higher than prices in 2003.

In short, my home is worth in 2018 dollars 37 percent less than it was when I bought it. How is that possible? I understand that there was a global financial crisis 10 years ago, but surrounding communities have rebounded fully and have homes that have increased in value during the same 15-year period. My neighbors and Shelton friends are asking the same question. How is this possible?

In the housing market, the largest valuing factor other than the home itself is the school district in which it resides. In our town, the constant public disagreement over the education budget makes it appear that this board and this administration do not care about education. I have read repeatedly that Shelton is in the bottom few Connecticut districts in per-pupil spending. How is that possible? We have resources. We are a beautiful small town that offers a wonderful quality of life. We have industry and expansion. We are a developing community.

Yet for me personally, I’m very worried about my financial future because my largest personal investment has a third less buying power than it did when I initially invested in it. That is not due to maintenance issues of the property. It is, in my opinion, due to the way we conduct our city’s business and the public squabbling that is the norm in our politics. We have to now work hard to change that perception. It is OK to disagree, but the manner in which this is being done is hurting every property owner in this town. It will hurt our citizens’ futures and retirement years. Empty-nesters will not be able to get what they hope to when they sell their homes because there is no market for younger families to move to our town.

Why is that do you ask? It is due to the perception. Markets are based on perception and the perception outside the city lines of our public schools is poor despite the fact that every teacher I’ve come across during my time here is outstanding.

I just made a career change fulfilling my dream of becoming a teacher and I can tell you that even new teachers were very leery about joining our district, and that is unfortunate. The perception is that there are budget problems and things in our schools are on the downswing. I know this not to be true, but this is hurting all of us.

We have to change. We are on the precipice of a long-term financial disaster for this city because we are being penny wise and pound foolish. My tax bill was $13 less this year. Honestly, if we could have avoided all the nonsense with the bus contract and the pay for play and the holding back of propane to fuel the buses, you could have kept my $13. It looks to outsiders and citizens like we are charging the families of our student athletes to pay for fuel for our buses.

I call for this board to properly fund this school district. I call for us as a community to work hard to get that per-pupil spending figure up to where it should be. This policy is hurting all of us whether we have students in the public schools or not. I implore you to change, work together with the various city boards, and change the perception that Shelton does not care about our kids and our collective futures. We all deserve better and I believe that together we can very easily accomplish this and make Shelton an extremely desirable city for people to live in.

Scott A. Smith lives in Shelton.

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