Opinion: Covid-19 is just another excuse to gut Stamford schools

Newfield Elementary School.

Newfield Elementary School.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media

It was explained that “everyone is going to need to make a sacrifice” during a Board of Finance meeting discussing the proposed cuts of $15 million from our school budget in Stamford. The Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly an economic catastrophe of a scale we have never seen before and the breadth of its impact has yet to even have been realized. Yet, in the public education system, budget allocation has been sold as an emergency for decades and our education system is always the sacrifice that can never seem to be avoided.

Since 2011, the Stamford public school’s budget has had an average annual increase of 2.61 percent and the national average rate of inflation since 2011 is 1.96 percent. Since 2011 our school enrollment went up 8.75 percent. If Stamford Public School’s conditions, funding, and resources were ideal in 2011 — I assure you they weren’t — we would still be falling behind given these numbers. We can’t even maintain a state of stagnation and we should be embarrassed given that our starting point was below mediocrity.

Evidence for this long history of neglect and underfunding can be seen throughout the country and every district can demonstrate how this disregard has manifested itself in their resources and infrastructure. In our district, it looks like a mold infestation in 11 of 21 schools, where one school, Westover Elementary School, was closed from the mold and relocated to an abandoned office building. Several teachers and students suffered respiratory complications from the inhalation of the mold. Our school, Roxbury Elementary — built in 1955 — went for almost a year having moldy ceiling tiles removed exposing wires — some hanging — and pipes of the ceiling’s inner guts.

Our toxic, dated, and crumbling infrastructure is a demonstrable side effect of long term and cumulative neglect that cannot be attributed to short term emergencies. It is far more difficult to measure the damage our so-called “sacrifices” have had on the minds, opportunities, and futures of the children in our communities and how those failings translate to our society when our students become adults. What does the lack of social workers, school psychologists, large classroom sizes, lack of resources, and teacher aides look like 15 years later in the adults contributing to our community?

Most, if not every single person reading this reaped the benefits of a sound public education and it’s our moral obligation to provide a minimum of the same opportunities, and if we have any modicum of competence, better opportunities for this generation of children. In a time of crisis, our schools are not only going to feel the shock waves of stress caused by this pandemic, but they are going to have to absorb the impact while bracing on a brittle foundation made weak by a long history of under-funding. To impose more financial restrictions on such a system in a time of crisis is an irresponsible and unethical proposition that cannot be made while feigning ignorance to the decades spent weakening it.

Our education system is a pillar that adds stability to our society. The services that extend beyond education are invaluable to families and belong in the upper levels of urgency as we triage priority of our response to this pandemic. Our local and federal governments need to be held accountable for their past neglect and should hear every voice that wants it to stop and demand that our schools are high on the list of emergency funding. Please, make your voice heard.

Paul Riccio of Wilton is a teacher in Stamford Public Schools