Friday, April 29, 2016

Budget Hearing Draws Another Crowd

The Common Council held a meeting last night to allow public input into the budget hearing. It was attended by most Council members; the only ones that were missing were Phil Pessina (R), Carl Chisem (D), and Grady Faulkner (D).  About 100 people attended, and 40 people addressed the Council.

The comments were on three topics: education, union jobs in the schools, and the arts. 

Schools and union jobs
Seven people spoke on behalf of the employees who are part of local union 466, representing clerical and custodial workers. 466 union members are paid by the Board of Education but are covered by a union contract with the City. The Board of Education does not have hiring and firing authority over them, this is held by the Mayor. [Thank you to anonymous for correcting an earlier version of this paragraph.]

Lori Pelletier, President of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, addressed the decision by the Board of Education to use outside contractors such as Sodexo to work for the city, advocating for more "in-house", union employees.

She said, "Concerns have been raised ... [about one of these outside contractors, Sodexo]", she offered no specificity about who raised those concerns, or what they were.  She went on to bemoan the privatization of public services, pointing to the "debacle at the DMV."  She said, "public employees are vested in the system, they are vested in your people, not an outside corporation."

Christine Bourne, vice-president of Local 466, said that 9.5 custodians was not enough to maintain the schools.  Several custodians emphasized how important it was that the schools employed enough custodians. Denise Privett said her building was understaffed, "I need help." 

The custodians and their union leaders addressed their comments as much to the School Board as to the Common Council. The union leaders in particular perceived inefficiencies in the Schools, Bourne said, "Waste doesn't have to happen."  They also claimed that city employees could provide better and more efficient services than Sodexo. Jeff Daniels, President of the local 466 union, said, "Sodexo is not a savior for us." 

The Arts
Eight local artists and arts supporters spoke on behalf of arts funding in the city budget. Reasoned pleas came from several artists known far beyond our city, including Noah Baermann, Marcella Trowbridge, and Kate Ten Eyck. Each of them said that the vibrancy of the arts in our city was the

most important reason they chose to make Middletown their home. Along with several members of the city's Commission on the Arts, and other residents, they asked the Council to maintain its budgetary support for the arts. 

Schools, parents and teachers
About 25 speakers advocated for full funding of our city's public education system. The speakers were about evenly divided between teachers, parents, and children. Most of the adults acknowledged that the budget was difficult, but all said that the schools needed to be fully funded.

Teachers and children spoke about the importance of what goes on in the class room. Steve McKenen, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson, pointed to the importance of paraprofessionals to help teachers when there are multiple students in the class room who need his help, "I've got only two hands and one head."

Parents' comments were more pointed. Several parents referenced a meeting last week, when Council Members and the Mayor offered testimonies about the budget, and interviewed the Schools' administration about their budget. At that meeting, Councilman Tom Serra said he was, "quite frankly annoyed with the public."

Four different parents looked directly at Serra and told him how offensive it was to be told that they were annoying. They sent the annoying comment back at Serra, and added "irritating", "exasperating", and others. Brian Kaskel said that some of the synonyms he wanted to use were not suitable for broadcast.

Selena Chapman said, "I'm going to be annoyed voting for you."  


Anonymous said...

Note: The 466 union members are paid by the BOE and also supervised by the BOE (or Sodexo - another story) but are covered by a union contract with the City like any other department of the City. The Mayor is the hiring and firing authority for all UPSEAU and 466 employees no matter what department they work in.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the union rep. The only good part of the DMV is what is privatized. AAA works much better than DMV and that's privatized! DMV should privatize more.

Anonymous said...

Bet you if Sodexho were able to bring in their own people 1) schools would be adequately staffed, 2) work would get done on time in budget and 3) there would be no 26% increase in health insurance.

Anonymous said...

Is it true that there are only 9.5 custodians for ALL of the schools in Middletown? That is insane. There are how many schools - 11?? It seems that we are too top heavy. Lose one of the highest paid administrators, keep the teachers and hire more WORKERS to take care of the students and the schools.