While it’s not totally surprising that some members on my own town council are hesitant to embrace or welcome the children of families who can’t afford a single family home, it is disappointing to hear them speak of children as nothing more than dollars and cents for the school system.
But that’s what a few of them did at a recent local —and public—meeting where the topic on the table was potential new development in town. I wasn’t there in person but I watched the video. It was disappointing—but sadly, unsurprising—to hear Councilor Tom Kane speak about children who live in apartments as such a drain on the the school system that they want to be sure any new development won’t have school-aged children living in it.
Councilor Tom Kane is wary of additional residential properties in town and he cites the apartment building Cumberland Crossing as part of the reason for his concern. According to him, despite promises to the contrary before the project, there are 70 school-aged children who live there and they do not bring the dollars with them that a child living in a 4-bedroom single family home does.
From the Valley Breeze:
On the Cumberland Crossing complex, Kane said the project was sold as a one- and two-bedroom facility that would draw people without children. Some 70 students are now living there, he said, making it one of the largest bus stops in the town. The combined cost of $666,000 to educate them, based on per-pupil spending, is nearly double the $385,038 generated, he said.
Kane later conceded that the district wouldn’t save that $666,000 if the 70 students were taken out of the district, as per-pupil spending is calculated based on the entire school budget.
There is a considerable “ick” factor when we talk about people’s children as insufficient tax revenue during a public meeting. And if Kane attaches money directly to students, it seems that residents in large single family homes with no children shouldn’t be expected to pay anything.
I assume he and his fellow council members don’t really want to have an honest conversation about how much revenue residents generate for the town—and school department—versus how much they personally cost the school system. But if they do, we should start the conversation by refreshing our memories about our obligation— under federal and state law— to ensure that at least 10 percent of the housing within our zip code qualify as affordable housing.
Council Chairman Peter Bradley also seems to think he’s an expert on student mobility since he has a few nieces and nephews who tell him about students who “come and go”. With all due respect, it would be nice to know that he doesn’t make his decisions as the Council Chair based on a few anecdotes from his nieces and nephews. And singling out parents living here on work visas isn’t a good look either.
Unless we are in the business of hoarding our “great schools” and trying to keep out families looking to do the best they can for their children, this conversation feels wrong. Any mother who wants the same for her children as I want for mine should feel welcome in Cumberland whether she lives in a two-bedroom apartment or a six-bedroom house.
If we were more in touch with our humanity and more willing to think outside the box in terms of revenue sources for the school system, we would be more welcoming—not less—of children from surrounding communities. We would be working to find ways to start an inter-district choice program so that we could offer available seats in our schools to children from neighboring communities. I imagine this plan would not rankle Councilors Kane and Bradley since new students would arrive with their local per pupil dollars in tow, an amount higher than what Cumberland spends per student.
Perhaps these folks don’t realize how they sound when they talk about children from other places but I would hate for moms and dads to think they aren’t welcome in my community because they can’t afford to purchase a home. I will stand with those parents every day.
The video of the full meeting is available here.