Friday, December 13, 2013


(A commentary by Brian Kaskel)

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


Bill Wilson said...

Talked about adding teachers but does the enrollment dictate that should happen?
My issue is that they continue to ask for large increases year after year without a detailed plan for the public to see. I for one want a budget that I can go over line by line like they have on the City side.
One last thing I don't want anymore scare tactics of taking away activities or laying off teachers which has been a mainstay of the administration though out the years.

Anonymous said...

Talked about adding teachers but does the enrollment dictate that should happen?
My issue is that they continue to ask for large increases year after year without a detailed plan for the public to see. I for one want a budget that I can go over line by line like they have on the City side.
One last thing I don't want anymore scare tactics of taking away activities or laying off teachers which has been a mainstay of the administration though out the years.

BrianK said...

Billy, I think based on conversations we have had, you are aware that my leanings are "right" but not necessarily as right as some of our fellow Republicans. And, we have had this conversation before. I think my exact quote is that "I don't want higher taxes - but I do want the city to reallocate existing funds."
At the end of the day, it is blaringly obvious that the current administration puts a priority on downtown revitalization and river front recapture (part deux). When you compare Middletown to 44 other towns/cities of similar economic structure, you will see we are 1st of 45 in entertainment and dining. We are 42nd in schools. You tell me why a family would want to move here. It certainly isn't the school system - but it should be, and it will be.
I will be the first to say, I would love to take my family for a walk along the river for an ice cream cone, but not at the expense of our schools.
To address your comment about enrollment, yes, 100% it dictates more than one new teacher. As for the budget, it is FOI-able and I have a copy of it. All Ninety-Six line items. Also - as I mentioned in the blog the public is welcome to attend the BOE budget workshop this Tuesday. I hope to see you there!

Anonymous said...

As a taxpayer, I would like closer examination of the administrative overhead currently in place to see what can be cut. Regardless of party affiliation, I think we can all agree education of our children should be a top priority. However, I am concerned that money that should be directed to the children is being absorbed by the Administration.

Anonymous said...

Brian, information on the budget is sorely lacking. There used to be a very nice book that contained narrative and told us where the money was being spent and how many staff were in the budget. Now we just get 94 line items that don't tell us much of anything. But that's probably they way they want it. An uninformed electorate is a powerless electorate.

And by the way, one should not have to FOI the 94 line items. In previous years it was on the website immediately.

BrianK said...

Maybe there used to be more, it was before my involvement if there was. I am sure you can ask to see more. I do not get the impression that this administration is being secretive, nor do I feel that they are trying elude transparency. (That was a funny comment coming from someone who choses to be anonymous in their post.)

Please don't let my support for the current administration, or my desire to be bi-partisan and attempt to keep "politics as usual" out of the BOE, trick you into thinking that I won't be the first to apply pressure if there needs to be pressure applied. I personally, have already addressed the need to see more of the "savings" that Sodexo is providing, because based on my simple math I feel it is costing us more money. I am giving the BOE the chance to respond before I tar and feather them.

In regards to uninformed electorate, if we are talking about the same group that never shows up to a meeting, then I agree. These meetings, BOE, Budget, Policy, etc. are ALL open to the public. If the public choses not to go, then they choose to be uninformed.

Kindest Regards, and THANK YOU for the witty banter on my first blog.

Anonymous said...

The lack of attendance at BOE meetings should not be mistaken for a lack of interest. There is no requirement for parents or concerned citizens to attend public meetings - which may be viewed on cable by the way. Many have other commitments, involving work and/or children's activities, which prevent attendance at the meetings.

When you have a moment, perhaps you can address administrative overhead costs that can be put on the cutting block. Surely there are some if not many.

Anonymous said...

You shouldn't have to go to a meeting to have access to basic information like how many people by job class the budget contains.

It is offensive to label citizens as uninformed for expecting basic information that most schools have readily available on their website to be on Middletown's. Information that in the past was (and still is) on their website. Physical attendance does not equate with being informed. Many people can't and don't attend state or federal legislative hearings and that doesn't make them uninformed.

BrianK said...

To Anonymous (6:16pm) I am happy to ask the hard questions as they come up. And while I agree, there is no requirement for parents or concerned citizens to attend meetings, it is the best way to have your voice and/or concerns heard. Kind of like voting, when people say "if you don't vote, then don't complain". How do you expect to invoke change?
We are all busy, I certainly could use an extra hour or two in my day, but I feel these meetings are just as important as all the other things in our lives. These are our elected officials, BOE, Common Council, etc. we have a right to show up and speak. It is one way (especially with the TV element) that our voices are heard and not buried. Do you agree? Join me.

BrianK said...

To Anonymous (8:29am) I meant no offense about "uninformed", I was just quoting an earlier comment by someone with your same name. "Anonymous".

It is unfortunate, that a large majority of our community are "uninformed" about what is going on in the schools, or neighborhoods, because they may not know how to get information on their own.

My stance has been and continues to be, if we want real change we have to come out in large numbers. For example, last year when fall crew was on the chopping block, over 30 students, parents, and teachers came out to "fight for it" and they won. Public forums are the best way to express opinions and grow support amongst peers.

All I am asking is that more people come out and get the answers they are looking for.

Again, thanks for the chance to chat! Your name is?