Wednesday, January 13, 2016

BOE Faces Difficult Budget Choices

Woodrow Wilson students advocate for swim club.
The Board of Education began Tuesday evening's meeting on a positive note.

Four Woodrow Wilson 7th graders appealed to the board to open the shuttered Woodrow Wilson pool for use with a proposed swim clubs.  Speaking in tandem, Nyemah West, Sophia Longlelosi, Rachel Getek and Olivia Bates listed advantages for having a usable pool at the school.  They cited the competitive nature of Woodrow Wilson students who might want to engage in swim competition, the need for some students to learn to swim, and the ability to begin a swim club as important reasons to be considered. They also acknowledged the need for a minimum of two lifeguards and a coach to be present for any school activities, but said that volunteers were already being lined up.

Ava McGlew and Rachel Angle
Another student, MHS student Rachel Angle spoke about the efforts of the school's Dragons in Action group to open up lines of communication with the food services providers in the district.  Dragons in Action have compiled the results of two surveys which demonstrate that cafeteria food is indeed an issue, that there is a lack of consistency in food served and a lack of communication.  Angle copresented her thoughts with food services director Ava McGlew, an employee of Sodexo food services, who has begun to work with Angle, and her group to respond to the needs of students.  McGlew has initiated two programs, a regular Food Tasting event, and an effort to mimic successful farm to table menus with a Put Local On Your Tray menu items.

McGlew also made a presentation about food services, indicating that breakfast and lunch participation is up in the district (breakfast up 8.5%, lunch up .2%), and that the level of participation is very successful as compared to other Connecticut districts of the same size.

Budget News Leaves Bad Taste

The good food news soured quickly at the meeting as the Board discussed work on the budget for the 2016-2017 school year, where Sodexo food services, and facilities management, soon became a target.

Despite the success touted by McGlew, at least one board member, Chris Drake, questioned whether paying Sodexo to manage the service was providing any higher quality or saving any more money than if the district appointed it's own manager.

"I don't buy the magic savings she's talking about in purchasing commodities at a lower price than we could on the open market," Drake said.

Superintendent Pat Charles presented her annual outlook on the upcoming budget.  She noted that a status quo budget, with no changes in what's being done in the current budget year,  would mean a minimal increase of $2,934,404, or 3.76%, or a total city-funded budget of $81,058, 004.  However, she noted that because of increased demands of special needs students,  and the need to meet minimal high school standards in areas like foreign language, and to keep the district on track with technology, the real need of the district is more like an increase of 7.16% or $5,596,095, an increased total of $83,719,695.

"We don't feel there's fluff in this budget," Charles said.  "There are many important things we need.  There are other things, important things, that administrators have asked for, that are not in this budget.  I would be remiss to not present what the district really needs."

The Board will meet again in January specifically on the budget, but questions began early with Drake saying he didn't want to get specific, but in general saw the ability to cut in some areas.

Drake Considers Cuts in Energy, Technology, Activities and Athletics

"On energy, technology, athletics and activities there is some trimming that can be done," Drake said.  "I'm going to be reluctant to make cuts in anything that's related to actual classroom costs."

Drake also urged the board to consider the need of making cuts to the budget before it goes to the Common Council.  Last year the board delivered the superintendents requested budget with a nearly six percent increase, which the mayor and council cut down to 3%.

Drake advised that it was the duty of the Board of Education to consider cuts before the budget is delivered to the mayor and council.

"If we approve a budget of 7.9% the Common Council will reject the budget," Drake said.  "Based on what we have here, we have to take out at least $2.5 million to even reach a budget that is ever acceptable to the Common Council."

Sodexo seems to have a target on its back during the budget talks, as Drake indicated that the cost of the contract with the company, for facilities and food services, might outweigh the benefits.

In addition, Board chair, Vinnie Loffredo distributed a year-old (2/15/15) letter from the mayor which urged the board at that time to sever the contract with Sodexo.  The board, after careful consideration, outside analysis, and reports from Sodexo, voted to keep the contract in place.  Loffredo warned his colleagues that the mayors office, and others in the city would be recommending the same thing this year.

The Board suggested that Charles return to the next meeting of the group with a set of cuts that demonstrate what the budget would look like with increases of 6%, 5%, 4% and 3%.

"It's what we've done in the past," Board member Cheryl McClellan said.  "Until we know what kind of pain these cuts will create, we can't make a good decision."

No comments: