Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Board of Ed Appoints Two New Principals While Admitting $848K Budget Shortfall

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.


Anonymous said...

Buck up Charles and do your job of putting a budget together. That is what Superintendents are hired to do.

Maybe the BOE wouldn't be in this mess if you hadn't taken a substantial increase, added administrators and other staff not related to state mandates, hired a more expensive attorney and given more money to the non teaching employees. Where were the kids in all of this?

Anonymous said...

Has there been an independent analysis of this cost savings that Nocera claims by combining departments with the city?

Other towns and BOE's have looked at this and have usually found no cost savings. You still have same number of paychecks to process, same number of computers to support and toilets to clean. You don't get a discounted hourly rate for attorneys and none of the city attorneys are versed in educational law any more than BOE attorneys are versed in land use law.

Looks like Mr. Nocera is selling the public some snake oil.

Anonymous said...

Superintendent Charles would be well advised to read her own budget before making erroneous comments.

The budget on the district web site shows an increase to the substitute line so to say it was cut during last year's budget process is not true.

It is these kinds of statements that make you not trust the information she provides to the BOE and public.

Anonymous said...

Why is there a budget shortfall?

More things change, the more they stay the same.

Anonymous said...

Nice way to find this out...our children didn't even know that a new principal was hired...I guess no common courtesy from the BOE...surprise, surprise...

Anonymous said...

The previous administration and BOE didn't have this problem. Just sayin.

Anonymous said...

Why is this happening. we have a new boe and I thought everything would be okay. I guess the old is not much different that the old board.

Disappointed and saddened that the children are the one's on the short end of the stick yet again.

Anonymous said...

This budget was created by Michael Frechette's administration and inherited by the new superintendant.

She is in the process of creating a new one for the next cycle. There are likely efficiencies that could be created, but to blame the shortfall on this administration is shortsighted. Let's give her a chance to come up with a budget that is realistic to our district instead of making up numbers like Frechette did.

Anonymous said...

The BOE ended the 6/30/2012 fiscal year on a positive note, being able to cover the shortfall in the caferia fund from the BOE budget and returned a small amount to the General Fund. However, with the year ending 6/30/2011, the BOE ended the year with approximately 1 million in the red; this is reflected on the City's balance as a deductioon to the General Fund. There doesn't seem to be much discussion about this!!!

Also, previously it has been suggested to combine the administrative duties of the BOE (classified positions such as custodians, accounts payable and payroll) with the City's staff; however, at that time it was pointed out that doing this would affect the funding for the BOE. The state has determined that the BOE must be funded each year to the level of the previous year therefore even if you switched the funding to the city side you would still need to fund the boe at the same level. Surprisingly while this was a concern before, it's not such a problem now???

Anonymous said...

We seem to have a problem with the cafeteria accounts. The budget for the cafeteria doesn't appear on the BOE's website so it's hard to know what's actually happening but the cafeteria's are supposed to be self-supporting.

It's hard to believe that the cafeteria at the high school with individual stations and "cooking on demand" actually works when the students have 20 minutes for lunch period. Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if they stopped paying Frechette $300 an hour to consult,a and Dr. Larson around, and Charles's salary didn't include such gratituous mileage stipends there wouldn't be such a huge HOLE. Course Drew will just throw more money at the issue and say it is all a misunderstanding.

Anonymous said...

And maybe if they didn't bring in 3 financial consultants to do the job of the finance clerk because she can't do it we could have supplies in the classroom.