This week’s Board of Education meeting proved that we are either content with the status quo, or as New Englanders, we are getting soft. Yes, there was two inches of snow on the ground, and yes there were twenty degree temperatures, but yes, there WAS a Middletown Board of Education meeting on December 10th. Besides myself, and those who were there as members of the media, and/or presenters from the BOE administration office, there was one member of the community in attendance.
I will chalk this up to the “weather” and hope that we as citizens have not fallen into a coma of complacency. The unfortunate result of the low attendance – was that the general public was not informed about the Superintendent’s first draft budget proposal.
Let’s dive into Dr. Charles’ budget goal, and as this is my first attempt at a blog, please grant me a bit of reprieve, as you begin to understand my banter and slightly right leaning stance. First off, Dr. Charles is asking for what I feel to be a fair and modest increase in the Board Budget for next year. It is not pie-in-the-sky, nor will it meet all the needs we have as a district – but it will keep us going as is and begin to bridge the gap on the glaring deficiencies we are dealing with.
Dr. Charles, will be asking the Board of Education, to approve her budget proposal that will end up in the hands of the Common Council. At this point, all numbers are subject to change, Dr. Charles is asking for an increase of almost $4.4 Million dollars, plus the lion share of the Alliance Grant due to the BOE from the State, that has to run through the City coffers. (More on that later)
The increase suggested will total 5.81% over last year’s budget, yet it will only be enough to fund one new, full time teacher. It is designed to cover a 2% raise for teachers based on the current contract as well as adding additional support staff in areas such as nursing, custodial, substitutes, intervention, para-professionals, and special education. It includes, based on City recommendations, a preparation for an increase of 15% to the total insurance package (health, dental, life, workman’s comp).
There were many areas Dr. Charles and her budget team were able to project a reduction in cost, due in large part to the board’s partnership with a resource and facility company by the name Sodexo. Key areas that are affected by this, is waste management, facilities, and maintenance. Other way’s the district will be saving money is the based on adjusted income levels due to last year’s position elimination and coming to the end of retirement pay-outs.
As I alluded to above, the state of Connecticut issues an Alliance Grant to our district, and requires the money to be spent on the schools. However, this is not done without smoke and mirrors. The State also lets the City decide how this will be allocated to the school. They allow for a “Substantial Majority” to go to the schools directly and then will allow the City to use the difference to off-set or subsidize if you will, the city’s share of the Board of Education allocation. Middletown has decided that a “Substantial Majority” is to be considered 51% (I would hate to see a simple majority). So for example; the State issues roughly $2,000,000 to Middletown via the Alliance Grant. The City allows $1,020,000 to be used by the Board. The city uses the other $980,000 and towards money that they were already going to give to the board per state mandate. Essentially, we are allowing the city “rob from Peter to pay Paul.”
If you continue to read my commentaries moving forward you will see my continued request for public and parent involvement with the Board of Education. On that vein, I encourage the public to attend the Board of Education Budget workshop on December 17th (7pm) to observe what I hope will be a “no stone unturned” attempt at squeezing every last dollar out of this budget.
I have said it before, and I will say it again – it is time to have the city make some tough decisions. It is time for a reallocation of existing funds, to be funneled to the improvement of our schools. Time to put the schools as a focus in this town. Enough bowing down to promises of corporate tax bases, and focus on what makes a community stronger. The Schools. Assistant Superintendent Enza Macri summarized it best when she said, “we know what works when we can use laser-like concentration… we do not have the funds to spend on all schools the way we know we need to….”
So, to my neighbors of Middletown, it is my suggestion that for now, we put our bi-partisan support behind the current BOE administration, until they give us a reason not to. I for one agree with the statements from newly elected board member, Vincent Loffredo when he suggests, “the Board needs more presence at the State level”. And later heard sentiments of agreement echoed by a few members of the board regarding Ed McKeon’s thoughts about the new common core legislation and the unfunded mandates that comes with it, reminding us, that “we shouldn’t make people in the reform industry rich, when we are facing tough times”
Other Items of interest from the Board of Education Meeting 12/10/13:
- Issues pertaining to student’s concerns about the Middletown High School late bus are still being investigated
- Family School Connection grant was adopted
- Grant and Bonding was delayed for the Public Safety Initiative, until calendars and meetings can be lined up.
- The Middletown department of Emergency Management is in the beginning stages of planning a “Full Shooting Exercise” at a school location for this summer. This will incorporate, Local Police, Fire Department(s), Emergency Management, Health Care Workers, State and Federal response agencies. It will require the Board’s support, and such, the Board has requested more information at a later meeting.
Brian Kaskel, is a Middletown parent and former candidate for the Middletown Board of Education