As the elected leaders of our statewide organizations representing boards of education and municipalities, we see first-hand the tremendous challenges and stress created by the COVID-19 public health crisis on our citizens.
Health concerns, distance learning, remote working, child care, job and food insecurity are just some of the issues burdening our citizens every day. While everyone longs for certainty — what is safe? When will it be safe? — right now what we must focus on is the guidance from our public health officials. Even as we rely on them, they are still learning about this virus. As they do, their recommendations for protocols will change.
It is more important than ever that local education leaders and municipal officials work collaboratively. During the current local budget adoption process we are very sensitive to the fiscal impact the COVID-19 crisis has on our citizens, but we also recognize that the uncertainty about how to safely reopen schools and other municipal services will lead to higher costs. Our schools will have to be sanitized more often, social distancing will be a burden in our classrooms and on our buses, ensuring there is sufficient personal protective equipment and helping students and staff cope with all of these stresses will be required.
We must prepare for various scenarios — and be nimble and flexible as the need to modify and improve our plans to serve and protect our students, staff and members of the community change. Communication between local officials and with our communities is key. (And what is also critically important is the consistency with both the communication and the collaboration between our chief elected officials and our superintendents in every city and town throughout the state). We know we do not have all the answers, but it is through constructive conversations that we will move forward.
As leaders, we are truly all in this together. When we collaborate, we will earn the confidence of our communities and help them move forward.
Donald Harris is President of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education and Chairman of the Bloomfield Board of Education. Michael Freda is President of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and North Haven First Selectman.