Blankley: Investing in Education is the Only Way Forward

Letter to the editor submitted by John Blankley, Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and exploring a run for State Treasurer

The New Lebanon school project is my theme today but I want to place it in a much wider context.

We heard a truly inspiring speech this week at the schools convocation held in our wonderful new high school auditorium, in which the speaker predicted that 65% of current kindergarten kids will do jobs in their lives that we today cannot even name. What a thought!

This is the pace of modern technological development. And the exponential growth curve of this advance steepens by the day. It is a worldwide phenomenon and we in the US need to get ahead of this curve in the only way possible: by continuing to invest in the education of our children.

However, education funding is being threatened in Connecticut by our state’s budget woes.

In exploring a run for State Treasurer I have visited over 45 towns across the state (with many more to go!) and the one question I get everywhere is, what can we do to preserve our commitment to one of the highest standards of education in the country?

Budgeting in a time of financial stress is proving to be a nightmare – no wonder our legislators still have not agreed on a budget. But no excuses; I say if we have to prioritize anything, it is education. And that should be in all forms. For example, vocational training is a must when we hear that high tech manufacturers like Electric Boat find it difficult to recruit skilled workers.

So how should we invest our education dollars? First we must keep up the pace with operating expenditures and continue to fund innovations such as the excellent digital learning initiative which is proving so successful in our schools in Greenwich. But we must also invest in infrastructure and build good modern facilities. In my time in local politics I am proud of the hand I played in the high school auditorium and even though I am now involved mainly in state politics I will continue to advocate for what we must do in my home town.

And so I come to my main theme: the rebuilding and expansion of New Lebanon Elementary school, itself a component of a detailed district-wide study of capital expenditure needs recently commissioned by the BOE.

This is not the place to rehearse all the arguments for “New Leb,” all of which point overwhelmingly to getting this project done but they include: the expanding population, getting pre-K kids back in the building and providing adequate instructional space for academic and enrichment activities.

The financing of the project is helped enormously by a state grant made available to help the district address a racial imbalance issue. Sadly some naysayers, even some in my own party, reject a grant designed to solve this problem. The state’s agencies have signed off on the grant and its purpose, so why argue with that? Some are opposed to a larger school but the experience we had with Glenville tells us that we should build appropriately sized schools to accommodate demographic swings.

Then some try to use the state’s financial situation to bolster their position. The grant for New Leb will be bonded and while some will complain that this imposes a burden on future generations, I say yes, that is so and moreover that is how it should be.

For this is a multi-generational enterprise and the cost should be shared over time, especially when the investment is so important. Extricating ourselves from our debt overhang is a long term objective and the growth and value created by the next generation will slowly but surely achieve that goal. And it’s starting now: Business Magazine has just reported that 34 of the country’s 500 fastest growing companies are based in Connecticut. I would argue that the connection with education is no coincidence.

And while I must take a wider view when considering state office I can still point out that a $23 million grant is a small sum for Greenwich to ask in compensation for the near billion dollars a year that our area sends to Hartford. It is heartening to see the combined efforts, across party lines, of the BOE and our state delegation to get this done for Greenwich. I reject completely the charge of inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, recently levelled at the delegation, accused of preaching austerity on the one hand and spending on the other with New Leb. They, like so many of us, are saying education is a top priority. And goodness knows, I have sparred with my friends across the aisle in past elections on many issues, but they have it right on this one.

I will conclude by saying that the State Treasurer is responsible for bond issuance and pension fund management and is thus somewhat removed from local issues but should I be elected to that office I will continue to advocate not only for what is right in education across the state but also for what is right for my home town.

John Blankley
Democratic member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and exploring a run for State Treasurer