There were just two items of business:
First, there was unanimous support for the appointment of Cheryl Gonzalez as the new assistant principal at Middletown High School, a position last held by Andy O'Brien. The vacancy was posted first to current employees of the district, and Gonzalez was the only applicant. Gonzalez began her Middletown career in 2001 as a Social Studies teacher at MHS, and has been the Dean of Students since the new building opened in 2008. With a heartfelt statement about her appreciation of the Middletown community, Gonzalez said that she was "deeply honored by the confidence" the board showed with her appointment.
Sheila Daniels, as the Board's representative in the search process, said "I think it is a nice, natural progression from a teacher to an administrator." She noted that it was apparent throughout the process that Gonzalez had the respect of her peers, the staff, and the students at MHS, and praised her for "not missing a beat through a tirade of questions."
The second item of business was the annual transmittal of the Superintendent's budget proposal to the Board. The budget discussion actually gets underway at the next Board of Ed meeting on January 10th, and in the meantime, the Board is expected to study the budget and submit their questions to the Superintendent by email. As an appetizer, the Superintendent highlighted the key areas of increase in the budget, including contracted increases for Datco bus service and salaries, and increases for items related to the District Improvement Plan, such as $200,000 to improve the collection of K-12 non-fiction titles.
A summary of the proposed $74,161,155 budget can be seen here. This request is a 4.82% increase from the current year's budget. The current 2011-12 budget was less than a 2% increase over the previous year (and, as Frechette pointed out, the previous 2 years had a 0% increase). There were some significant grants and Federal stimulus dollars in these years, which means it takes a little extra focus to understand the meaning of budget increases, and Board Secretary Ed McKeon asked for a report showing the income side of the budget, listing grants and how they are expended.
McKeon also asked for clarification on the reported elimination of 2 teaching positions - which appear to be positions that are currently unfilled, though it was not clear where they are in the school system.
Board Member Cheryl McMclellan made the comment that the summary would be more useful if it had a higher level of detail, as in some other towns she had surveyed. As an example, she highlighted the figure for salaries, saying: "I know it's all contractual, but it's this big huge number - if you can break it down a little bit, then you can understand what the numbers are," suggesting that outlines of each school's salaries, number of employees reflected, seniority level and benefits would help Board members who have to balance responsibility to the taxpayers with the educational goals. In reply, Frechette said that details would be provided in response to any requests.
The meeting wrapped up with a discussion between Chairman Gene Nocera and Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Barbara Senges about the level of technology the district could afford. Senges stressed that the district is following a replacement plan - perhaps not replacing computers as often as they'd like, but not falling behind. On the topic of the $200,000 proposed for new non-fiction titles, there was discussion on the option of using those funds to provide snazzy mobile devices (i.e. kindles and ipads), particularly in the middle school years, instead of
time-honored old-fashioned paper-and-ink (oops....I think I may have revealed a bias there!).
Actually, though it might not sound like it (and despite my personal preference for IRL books), there may be cost savings in building a digital library, because although the devices are an investment, the cost of printed textbooks has skyrocketed and continues to grow. All that will be debated in the (undoubtedly lively) curriculum committee meetings in the coming year(s).
As for the budget, for those new to the process, here's what we can expect: after their January meeting and some discussion, the Board will adopt a budget and pass it along to the Mayor. The Mayor then includes the education request - or whatever portion he supports - as a single line item in the City budget (roughly half of the city budget goes to the schools). The Common Council has the final responsibility to vote a budget - in May or June - which gets juggled as the numbers come in from the state about how much we can expect in Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds, and how much of the education spending will have to be paid through local taxes.
On a final note, one non-Board-member at the table was MHS sophomore Michael Durso, who has been attending BOE meetings since last year as a student representative. Other than leading the pledge of allegiance, Michael's primary job was observance, but I had a nice chat with him in the hall, and he was clearly enjoying his front row seat to how the Board works, and noting the changes through the election. Now that's what I call education!
*After the official meeting adjourned, the Board did stay for a slightly nebulous "non-meeting" or "recess" to discuss collective bargaining, which was held over the protests of previous Chair Ted Raczka, who stated: "what's a non-meeting? I think boards should either meet or not meet".