In Craig Martin's recent letter, "When will Andover check its spending," he crisply and accurately points out reasons for unconscionable annual increases in our town's spending and taxes.
Even more poignantly, he describes the abysmal decline of our school system's quality despite skyrocketing budgets. Having "moved here 15 years ago with the promise of great schools for a growing family...," he is understandably dismayed that Andover High's ranking has fallen from 38th in the state then, to 72nd now.
To these sentiments I can add a hearty echo, and then some.
When I moved to Andover 23 years ago, the school ranking was at or near the Top 10. Choosing to move here was a close call with respect to Westford and Acton -- similar communities to Andover in demographics, resources, and school ranking. They, however, have managed to keep their schools highly ranked, at significantly lower cost.
At last check, Westford's expenditure per pupil was 16% lower than ours, and Acton's was 10% lower. Moreover, their academic superiority was achieved with leaner staffs: teacher-to-student ratios of 14.1 and 15.0, respectively, compared with our evidently profligate 13.1.
There's no way that the precipitous collapse of school ranking can be blamed on evolutionary decline of our students' abilities.
Surely, the responsibility rests with the political operatives running the system: the School Committee, the teachers' union and the superintendent, currently Sheldon Berman.
Rather than accounting for performance, they seem to have a mutual love fest going. The committee has showered their beloved Berman with praise, juicy salary increases and contract extension via some murky secret-meeting maneuver.
Why not? He concocts budgets that sluice ever more money into the school system, while specifying no requirements for quantifiable improvements whatsoever.
His attention evidently has not been on checking how our peer communities have done so much better with so much less spending. (Instead, as a ridiculous example, he found time to write a six-page memo seeking to bring down a beloved hockey coach.)
Martin's letter calls for accountability of our budget. This call applies emphatically to the school system in particular.