WATERS: With no skin in the game, BET betrays our children and our Town

Letter to the Editor from James Waters, a public school parent who is a former staffer in the Bush White House and a US Navy SEAL officer. This letter was written to and ignored by the BET and is being printed publicly with the author’s permission.

Members of the BET,

I write to strongly encourage you to reconsider your decision to cut $3 million from the Board of Education’s proposed budget. With a long family history of involvement in our Town’s public schools, a decade of experience as a White House staffer in the Bush Administration and as a US Navy officer, and as a public school parent of multiple children today, I see your decision on Monday as reckless and likely to spark significant political unrest in our Town in a trying time.

In the days since I last wrote to you, the following have happened:

* You cut the school budget as proposed by the BOE by $3 million, despite widespread protests from parents who have no political allegiances. The decision by your chair, Mike Mason, to break a party line vote means that all Republicans in our town now own this decision and will face the consequences of it. Maybe you don’t know many parents of public school students, but they’re not likely to forget this.

* Likely unknown to you, parents across town are now organizing to oppose this decision and to defeat members who voted for the school cuts at the ballot box in 2021. These members are Mason, Fassuliotis, Drake, Duus, Hess, and Tarkington. I’ve heard parents say that these six members should be “tarred” with this decision permanently if they ever seek another elective office. Most of this is from parents who are very involved in our schools but have not been active in politics before.

* Your decision has sparked a discussion about whether it is appropriate for the BET to make decisions to cut public school funding when not a single member of the BET has even one child in our public schools today. I have heard that the Democratic members of the BET have had at least a dozen children go through our schools and that the number is far less on the Republican side. This lack of “skin in the game” doesn’t feel appropriate to many parents who have plenty of it.

* Many parents have been especially irked by the words of Republican Town Committee Chair Dan Quigley and BET Chair Mike Mason in the last 48 hours. To many, they seem to be gloating publicly about the decision to cut schools, with Mason even saying in a public email that he’s “happy” about it while overstepping his bounds and seemingly instructing our highly qualified Superintendent how to do her job. I have copied Board of Education Chair Peter Bernstein on this since I know the Superintendent reports to the Board of Education, not the BET. You are now under a microscope and the parents of public school students are paying attention and noticing who is saying what and how.

As someone with a lot of “skin in the game” both now and historically, I urge you to reconsider your decision. As I told you on Sunday, I was involved in a quiet effort that helped elect many of you in 2017 on both sides of the aisle. If your decision holds, I am very inclined to join a much louder effort to ensure that those who voted to cut school funding this week face severe political consequences in 2021.

Best regards,
James Waters