Letter: Overlooked in compensation debate
Updated 10:12 am, Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Westport budget issues are again being written about. This often involves views as to why people move to Westport and the use of private employer compensation and benefits as a template for public employers.
Our family did not move to Westport for its schools. All towns in Fairfield County we considered had and still have excellent schools. The factors that made Westport appealing to our family were Long Island Sound, the public amenities, a lively downtown, arts and entertainment, the railroad and our personal, positive views of the residents. Those were the key factors that affected our decision. (We could not afford Greenwich.) I suspect we are not unique. Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Weston and Wilton all have fine schools. I suspect that families that move into Fairfield County choose Westport not so much for the schools, that is a given, but for many other factors, several of which relate to and are sustained by our town, not our school, budget.
As to the private employer/employee template, the situation seems reversed. Those asserting that private employers provide lower compensation and benefits never seem to apply that thinking to Westport's schools. I do not believe that wages and benefits within town government or within Westport's schools should be driven downward because private employers are able to do that. However, for those who do, I think they lack consistency if they focus only on town, and not school, employees. Consistency requires the compensation of Westport's teachers and school administrators be subjected to a parallel standard, namely, the compensation and benefits available at private and parochial schools. Such an approach would cause quite a stir, and without even getting into tenure.
My points are simple. We should approach our town and school budgets with fairness for all. Town amenities and services are as important as schools. As to our employees, whether school or town, we do need change -- benefits as to the town employees and possibly salaries for the schools. However, we should not pursue a race to the bottom using the power of private industry as the model. We should support what we believe to be right, do our best to be cost effective and accept the resulting property tax cost. Let's not overemphasize the private sector. Lets also not underestimate the non school factors that sustain the appeal of Westport.