The Board of Education hired two Elementary School principals this evening: Melissa Barbuto as the new Lawrence School Principal and Tom Cannata as the new Wesley School Principal.
BOE Member Sheila Daniels recommended both candidates to the board, saying each was highly favored by the search committee and well-liked during the interview process.
Melissa Barbuto is leaving the Associate Principal position at Hamden High School, where she has been working since 2010. Prior to her administrative job, Barbuto taught Kindergarten, First Grade and Fourth Grade at Dunbar Hill Elementary School in Hamden. Barbuto has multiple degrees from Southern Connecticut State University: a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and a Bachelor in Arts in Psychology as well as a Masters in Elementary Education and a Sixth Year in Educational Leadership.
Tom Cannata is leaving his position as a Math/Science Instructional Leader for all elementary schools (grades K-5) in Plainville, CT. Cannata has been in Plainville since 2000, first as a Fifth Grade teacher and then as Head Teacher at Wheeler Elementary School. He has a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Central Connecticut State University, a Masters of Science in Education from the University of New Haven, and a Sixth Year in Education Leadership from Quinnipiac University.
BOE Chairman Dr. Gene Nocera commented, "We have hired some amazing people...to bring candidates of this quality to Middletown is amazing. These candidates wanted to come to this district, they read up on it, and they wanted to be part of leadership."
Immediately following the conclusion of the BOE meeting, this reporter overheard Superintendent Dr. Patricia Charles calling each candidate via cell phone to announce the official hiring decision. Charles seemed thoroughly pleased to pass on the good news, echoing the sentiments of the BOE as the board members voted to confirm the hiring decision.
The BOE had met both finalists in an interview just prior to the BOE meeting, and this evening's full BOE vote was the final confirmation needed to secure both job openings.
Both principals will have their hands full in their new positions as Budget Chairman Ted Raczka and Superintendent Charles announced a $848, 929 budget deficit for this year. The shortfalls are concentrated in cafeteria services at MHS (a $175K shortage), the substitute budget ($400K, cut from this year's budget during the last budget cycle), unexpected cuts in Title I and Title III funding ($32K), tuition for 70 Middletown students to attend magnet schools ($166K) and underfunding in other services such as telephone and legal services. This $850K shortfall does not include expected shortages in Special Education Services.
Raczka was very blunt with the board: "This is a very significant hole...we might have to start changing the structure in our buildings as early as next semester. It is going to be a pretty tense couple of months going forward."
Raczka's comments set off a volley of responses from his colleagues, with Ed McKeon pointing out that "We are here because of increased State mandates. We've been under-funded for 4 to 5 years, and we cannot let the quality of our district slip. The teachers and administrators are already giving a lot, but there is a negative trend that can develop and it will affect all of our property values. We have to say to the leaders of this town that our schools have to be properly funded." McKeon also mentioned the increase in technology costs associated with the new Common Core Standards. For example, by 2015, CT students will be tested on these new standards on computers, but the State has not provided the funding for said computers.
One of the most significant comments of the evening came again from Budget Chairman Ted Raczka: "Buried in one of the new state statutes is a common accounting system that BOEs throughout the state will have to use. The cost to the district for this new system is substantial, and someone has mentioned the wording "bonding" in order to pay for this."
BOE Chairman Dr. Gene Nocera confirmed Raczka's point, saying that bonding was being looked at for this year. Nocera went on to comment that every BOE in the state was having a similar conversation about budgets, with some districts unable to operate even at the level approved for this current year. "We are prepared to do whatever it takes to pull ourselves out of this, " Nocera said.
Nocera did spend some time telling the BOE how he thought current cost savings could be reached immediately: the City of Middletown and BOE are engaged in negotiations to consolidate common services such as payroll, legal services, IT, and in the future, buildings and grounds. The BOE also wants to switch lawyers to the firm of Shipman & Goodwin, but this proposal was questioned by Budget Chairman Raczka based on a perceived higher hourly rate than the current BOE lawyer charges: "We need money in the classrooms and we keep wanting to invest it in anything other than classrooms. We need to find cost savings where we can..."
There was also hesitation about handing over control of daily IT functions to a city manager. BOE member Ryan Kennedy commented that "our IT department is far superior to anything the city has even thought about. Why would we want to give that up?" Nocera insisted that "consolidation of services is absolutely in line with cost savings," and that it would allow the BOE to "share resources better, reduce overtime, improve efficiency, and improve the communications between the city and the Board of Ed. It's a win-win."
The December Board of Education meeting is "Ground Zero" for the budget cycle according to BOE member Ryan Kennedy. The Budget Committee faces probably its hardest year yet, not to mention the hole it has to climb out of to just finish the 2012-13 school year. While the BOE is already meeting with Mayor Drew to brainstorm how to handle the current deficit, expect the next few months to be rough and probably just plain ugly. While BOE members specifically counseled each other to not be alarmist, there are legitimately no fat places in the budget to trim. All fat has been removed already thanks to a 5 year budget cycle of level funded budgets (which actually are budget decreases when you account for contractual increases that have to get paid).
Superintendent Pat Charles said it most plainly: "I am supposed to be putting next year's budget together. [This situation] puts an incredible burden on me and the business office. It is a very difficult position to be in."
The next BOE meeting is Tuesday, December 11, at 7pm in the Common Council Chambers at City Hall. Superintendent Charles is scheduled to present her 2013-14 proposed budget.