Today's swearing in of the new Mayor, Tim O'Brien, and other municipal officials elected last Tuesday was most significant for where it was held as much as what was said at the ceremony.
The New Britain High Band played the music and the Madrigal Singers sang the National Anthem as classes at the high school, the state's largest, were in full session.
As a legislator O'Brien has been nothing less than passionate about public education and how it can be improved in a city where pressures on keeping the property tax down are paramount. O'Brien has balanced the need for aid to education with solid plans to reduce the reliance on property taxes to pay for quality education. O'Brien should fervently hope that Governor Malloy, formerly an urban Mayor, will address the school funding issues if he can get out from under the state's recession over the next two years. Among other things O'Brien has called for use of magnet school funding to give New Britain parents a choice and to develop Sheff-O'Neill regional schools within the city which hosts one of the major teacher colleges in the state in CCSU. Upwards of 600 New Britain students now journey to Hartford every day to attend the Classical Magnet or the college-oriented Capital Prep.
In the last two City Hall administrations (Pawlak's and Stewart's 16 years) the local allocation to the schools has been contentious and successive administrations have skirted or scuttled the requirement for a minimum level of support to education. Less than two years ago the Democratic Council restored more than $1 million to avoid larger classroom sizes only to have it scuttled by the Mayor.
Unquestionably, Tim O'Brien faces enormous fiscal issues as he takes office amid the deep recession and less in the way of help from Hartford or D.C. But based on his call at today's inaugural for cooperation and a clear statement that education IS a priority in his administration the terms of the debate have significantly changed. Education will be a priority and O'Brien intends to be the "Education Mayor". As the more perceptive politicians in our town have pointed out that is the only and best strategy to retain and attract middle-class families to stay here and move in from anywhere else.