I felt sick today reading Louis Uchitelle’s excellent Times article, Even in Wealthy Town, Schools Feel Pinch.  Uchitelle details how some in top Westchester public school district Bronxville, one of Westchester’s most affluent towns, are fighting school tax and teacher pay increases.  Uchitelle writes:

But even here — as in other affluent enclaves — corners are being cut, bringing home the wrenching debate that has caused turmoil in so many other communities. What some really fear is that the cuts will continue. “You hear people say they want Mandarin taught in the sixth grade or they want smaller class size or some other enhancement,” said Julie Meade, president of the Parent Teacher Association and mother of two school-age children. “But they don’t talk about raising taxes to pay for what they advocate. I haven’t heard anyone say raise taxes to pay for quality.”

Uchitelle continues,

Some residents argue that the town should be more businesslike, cutting other costs to offset the outlay for smaller classes. Peter P. Pulkkinen is one. A 40-year-old investment banker, he and his wife, Sarah, moved here in 2004 from the Upper East Side and their two oldest children are now in the first and third grades. He wants small classes for them. But rather than raise taxes, he would restrict the compensation of existing teachers — particularly their benefits.

In Bronxville, they’ve already laid off the janitorial staff, outsourcing the work.

In my and many others’ view, local public schools should be communities, not businesses.  When wealthy investment bankers fight small annual teacher pay increases and lay off janitors, who have sometimes worked in local schools for generations, they are basically destroying a school’s community fabric.  By resisting tax increases that would pay for the Mandarin classes and science labs that families want, they instead are asking others — teachers — to pay for parents’  desires to enrich their kids and build their college resumes.

Given that private school tuition is about $35,000 per year, property taxes are still relatively low when you think that many of Bronxville’s homes are filled with two, three, and four children.

The losers in these disputes are public school staff and children.  The winners, as usual, are private schools.  Given the budgeting trend, I expect my phone will be ringing more than ever with concerned Westchester parents seeking private Riverdale and Westchester private schools for their kids.