Letter: Time to stop playing politics with test scores

First Selectman Tim Herbst.
First Selectman Tim Herbst.

To the Editor:

During the most recent election campaign and during this ongoing budget process, I have heard on repeated occasion from education advocates in our community that we don’t spend enough on public education in Trumbull; and, as a result of not spending enough, our test scores are in a state of decline and our schools are not performing where they should be. The gist: We need to spend more. 

After the election campaign, Trumbull parents communicated to me that school PTA lists were shared with one campaign for purposes of influencing the election outcome. One year of testing data was manipulated in a campaign brochure to create a perception that student test scores district wide were in a state of decline. While I appreciate and have great respect for those that advocate on behalf of our public schools, I do not respect when misinformation is spread to the parents of Trumbull in a concerted effort to construct a narrative that our schools are in a state of decline. Recently, an anonymous party set up a website that purports to be a BOE sanctioned website that casts the school system in a negative light. I respect Dr. Cialfi, Dr. McGrath, Dr. Budd, our principals and our teachers that are doing an exceptional job to improve student performance. These misleading attacks on test scores are disrespectful and insulting to our school administrators, teachers, specialists and instructional leaders who work hard every day.

Last week, the former Town Council Minority Leader said we don’t need to spend more, we need to spend smarter. But she believes we need to spend more on public education, despite anticipated declining enrollment. Currently, our education budget is $97 million in a school system of 6,760 students. That $97 million operating budget does not include the $7.5 million we spend on average, annually, to make needed capital upgrades to all of our school buildings, nor does it include pension contributions for BOE personnel or our Nursing Department. We spend a minimum of $105 million a year on public education in Trumbull. The former Town Council Minority Leader has been consistent in her belief that consistently spending more will equal higher test scores and better performing students. The facts and the data clearly demonstrate how her views are fundamentally flawed.      

Between 2005 and 2010, the average annual increase in the Board of Education budget was 5.22%. The Board of Education budget rose from $69.3 million to $84 million. From 2005-2010, the average high school SAT score was 1573. From 2010-2015, the average increase to the Board of Education budget was 2.48%. The average high school SAT score during that same time period was 1603 — a higher five year average than the previous five years.

Currently, 93% of Trumbull High School students are at an AP testing score point that research finds predictive of college success and college graduation. The data also reveals that our elementary and secondary schools are doing exceptionally well. This data shows me that Dr. Cialfi and his administrative team are not spending more — they are spending smarter and the data clearly shows improved student achievement.  

We empower and employ instructional leaders to develop an action plan, develop priorities and develop an annual operating budget for our schools. The budget that I have proposed restores the budget to Dr. Cialfi’s recommended level. It is time to stop playing politics with test scores and it is time to stop spreading misinformation to parents in an attempt to execute a political agenda. Let the professionals do their job.