To the Editor:
I am writing my first letter to the LCN because I am extremely concerned about the upcoming Bristol Town meeting and decisions that will be made there, especially those that greatly impact the children of our town. Many members of the budget committee feel we need to continue to cut teachers and increase class sizes, despite the recommendations of the school committee and administration.
Lower class size is good for everyone–students, parents, teachers, school districts–but it cannot be accomplished with limited funding. The school committee has worked hard to create a responsible budget. These are the people who truly understand and have examined the specific needs within the school. They have already made cuts and found ways to save the taxpayers money, by reducing spending in the following areas: a bus run, office support, money for instructional materials, specialist time, technology spending, and most importantly three teacher positions.
Dictating how to educate our children is not in the budget committee’s job description and I would hope they would focus on the big picture and support the other elected officials in our town to do theirs. We need to protect this investment in our children and our community, and if the budget committee will not do this, then I hope the taxpayers of Bristol will.
Our children’s education is not something that we can sacrifice. Today’s classroom is very different from the classrooms in which we were educated. The curriculum is more complex, work is more “hands-on”, often done in small groups or individually focused, and there is a far greater range of abilities in the classroom.
Increasing the number of students in the classroom has a far more serious effect on instruction than in the models most of us experienced. Due to decreasing levels of state subsidy, the budget being proposed has been trimmed to the breaking point, and there will already be far fewer staff available to help in many areas of the school. If many on the budget committee have their way, the cuts will continue to the point where instruction will suffer. We cannot expect our children to succeed with fewer teachers and fewer resources.
We spend nearly $44,379 a year to house an inmate in our jails (Bureau of Justice Statistics) and yet we only spent $9883 per pupil last year to educate the children of Bristol (2008-09 data from the Maine Dept. of Education). This inequity is almost laughable when we consider the fact that studies show success in K-3 education is a strong indicator of who will become incarcerated later on in life.
Pay now or pay later – and I would much prefer to invest in the education of youngsters who are full of hope and possibility rather than those adults choosing to break the laws – no matter what the reasons they ended up there may be. Bristol must maintain reasonable standards of education for its children, or we will pay for jails, welfare, and medical services later.
By targeting class-size reductions in kindergarten and first grade, our taxpayers will receive the greatest academic gain for the money invested. Smaller classes save money, because they prevent many unnecessary referrals into expensive special education programs. Teachers can identify children with special learning problems early and give them effective help in the regular classroom setting.
Smaller classes are also a very cost-effective strategy to lower the number of students who have to repeat grades. The intimate setting of Bristol school and its classrooms is part of what makes our community school so special. We must find a way to consistently hold on to those qualities, despite the unpredictable economy.
Bristol’s children should not be the ones who pay the price for our tough economic times. Of course, all areas of town spending need to be examined and smart fiscal decisions made. This is why choosing to cut another classroom teacher in Bristol’s budget and placing 23 first graders in one classroom is not a smart financial or ethical decision for taxpayers.
Please attend town meeting to ensure that your voice is heard and that some of our youngest citizens – the students of Bristol school – are supported by our town. Thank you.
Gretchen Brinkler, Bristol