August 13, 2013

Wilson, Cockayne debate education spending

Here are dueling letters from Republican mayoral candidate Ken Cockayne and Democratic mayoral candidate Chris Wilson, both writing about education:
First, here's one Cockayne sent out recently:

Dear Editor:
The tickets for the November election have been endorsed by both Town Committees this week. The Republican slate of City Council candidates represents a diversified slate that is ready to roll up its sleeves and bring positive change to our community and I am excited to work with them for the betterment of Bristol.
I, however, was struck by a comment made by my opponent for Mayor. He stated that the Democrats were going to give us “A great 21st century city with a strong education system.” The reason this comment perplexed me was that I believe we already have a strong education system.
It is appalling that the current Chairman of the Bristol Board of Education who has been a member of that body for nearly a decade can make a statement alluding to fact that we don’t have a strong education system.
A few years back when my opponent was leading the charge to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on closing four neighborhood schools and constructing two new buildings he told us that this new K-8 concept was going to improve the quality of our education and give us state of the art facilities.
Now that the city has invested millions of hard earned tax dollars and redistricted thousands of students the Board Chairman and Democrat nominee says that we are still in need of “a strong education system.”
I believe the teachers in our community do a terrific job of educating our students with the limited resources the Board Chairman has allocated to them. As it has been well documented in The Bristol Press over the past few years our current education structure is way too top heavy with a majority of the scarce education dollars going to central office and school administrators, leaving the crumbs to make their way to the classrooms.
This is evident by the fact that after closing four neighborhood schools the Board of Education laid off not one administrator and let go of 32 teachers in the process.
As Mayor, I will have very little to say about how education dollars are appropriated on Church Street. The current state law ties the hands of local fiscal appropriators. Having said that, we all know that more changes are needed at central office to ensure that our students are receiving a quality education and our teachers have the resources needed to teach them.
Obviously this process has been a challenge for the current Chairman of the Board of Education and it was made more apparent by his comments alluding to the fact that our education system is weak and that our city isn’t ready for the 21st century.
I believe that our community is well positioned for the 21st century. The development of downtown Bristol and the opportunities available by the completion of Route 72 will make our community more prosperous and help reduce our tax burden on businesses and homeowners.

Ken Cockayne
Republican Nominee for Mayor

Here's Wilson's new letter:

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts."
Never has that quote by Daniel Patrick Moynihan ever been truer than now.  When Mr. Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” he very easily could have been talking about recent comments by the Bristol GOP Mayoral candidate. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time a politician has stated opinion like it is a fact.  And I’m sure it wont be the last.

Here are the facts.   During my tenure as Commissioner of  the Bristol Board of Education, I have worked with local business leaders, local education leaders, students and teachers to build school curriculum that prepares our students for college, trade school or the work force.  Test scores have risen despite decreases in state funding and we’ve returned $4,800,000 in hard earned surplus tax dollars to the City of Bristol.  The shorthand version – students are better prepared, the Bristol BOE is receiving less and we’ve returned $4,800,000 to taxpayers.  I’m pretty proud of these facts.    
Here are some more facts; the Bristol Board of Education has closed 5 Schools in the recent past.  We have redistricted the entire K-8 population as per the requirement of the State Board of Education. We have eliminated 119 positions from our chart of positions within the Board of Education.  Of those 119 positions 6.9 were administrative, 56.3 were teachers and the remainder was support positions throughout the district.  58 of those positions were layoffs, 51 were eliminated through attrition and 14 positions were moved to grant programs not part of the Board of Education Budget.
I offer these last two paragraphs so that my opponent can see the difference between fact and opinion.
More facts, the Bristol BOE has been dealing with chronic underfunding of education for some time. In fact the Superintendent in 2002 reported that education was under funded by 9 million dollars.  We currently sit near the bottom of ranking in how much money Bristol pays in per capita spending for each student as compared to other towns in our educational reference group.  For instance, last year, Manchester a very similar community to Bristol spent $14404 per Student and Bristol spent $12619.  We both have similar number of students and very similar demographics.  Despite these facts, student performance is improving.
Now, I agree that per student spending is important, but it’s not the only factor in this very complex equation.  But, to make the discussion about how much we pay our teachers or administrators, as my opponent has, is disingenuous.  We pay our teachers a commensurate salary for their experience, education and position.  We at the board of education continually benchmark ourselves against other communities in the Central CT area to make sure we are in the middle range when we perform salary surveys.  We don’t want to be the highest, but we don’t want to be the lowest either.  We want to keep and attract quality teachers and administrators that  work for the best results for our children’s future.  Further, to vilify school administrators is a political tactic unworthy of our time.  The fact is, we compete with other communities for the best candidates.  We want the very best for our students.  Clearly, the research indicates the most important individuals to a student’s success academically are their teachers and their principal.  We at the Board of Education are proud of our faculty.  They continually demonstrate they are very worth the investment we place in them.
The real problem is not the salaries of the administrators but the lack of recognition by policy makers and public officials as to what it takes to provide a 21st Century educational experience for our students. Our students compete for positions in post high school academic institutions including some of the best colleges and Universities in America.  Our challenge as a community and a Board of Education is to make sure we provide the resources for those students to compete against other students in the surrounding area, CT, across the country and globally. 
As a board of Education we have been required to reduce or eliminate many programs that provide the experience our students need.  We have not done it without much angst and anguish.  But we are also mandated to balance our budget each and every year.   We have managed our budgets very prudently, again returning over 4.8 million dollars to the city over the past 7 years.  We have offered retirement incentives to assist in managing during these difficult financial times. We have eliminated classes, increased class size, and moved programs from one building to another-all in an effort to manage with less than optimal funding.
Our administrators have taken the resources provided by community leaders and made wise decisions with those dollars.  As a Board Chairman I without hesitation support and applaud our administrative team and faculty for all their work.  They enhance the quality of life in our community.   Public officials who state otherwise are not being accurate or honest.

Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Contact Steve Collins at

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