For two hours concerned residents and taxpayers criticized cuts proposed by Mayor Dan Drew which would force the Board of Education to cut up to 17 teachers and close one of the elementary schools in town. There was passion, cold hard facts, research and anecdotes as those gathered stood, one by one and urged the Common Council to restore funds to the school budget. There was not one dissenting voice, unless you count Mayor Drew, who opened the meeting in an attempt to justify his cuts by pinning the blame on cuts to municipal funding by the state. Drew also ended the public session and the meeting by attempting to explain that those who gave testimony about recent raises to city hall staff were wrong. As he spoke, two dozen members of the audience walked out in protest.
Those commenting touched on a number of topics - the need to maintain small classroom size, the dedication of teachers in the town, the inequity of city hall salary raises in the face of teacher layoffs, the drop in property values concomitant with the falling support for schools, the evidence of success at schools where small class size was achieved, the lack of school supplies and technology and the need to honor and make credible the hard work of the superintendent and her staff.
In an unprecedented move, five members of the Board of Education (Sheila Daniels, Cheryl McClellan, Maryilyn Dunkley, Chris Drake and Vinnie Loffredo) stood and asked the Council to fully fund the Superintendent's request. Daniels pleaded with the Council and the mayor to view the problem as one we all share.
"It's not your money," she said. "It's not our money. It's everyone's money. It's our schools."
Dunkley asked the Council to consider funding the budget at the original request the superintendent made, and not the later, trimmed budget actually presented by the Board of Education.
Cheryl McClennan talked about the need to understand that the budget request from the Board and the Superintendent was legitimate and without frills. Chris Drake provided evidence that housing prices have been falling as support for schools have dropped, and he cited an anecdote in his own neighborhood where a neighbor sold their house and moved to Glastonbury strictly to be in a town that supported education.
Loffredo thanked all those who spoke, and reminded the Council that the Board of Education was prepared to deliver a detailed presentation at the Common Council's budget hearing for the board on Monday.
Superintendent Pat Charles and Assistant Superintendent Enza Macri were the last to speak. Macri offered statistical evidence about the need for funding to fuel smaller class sizes which yield the best results, and Charles thanked all who testified, and pleaded with the Common Council not to abandon a school system which has demonstrated success, but was at a point where cuts would erode that success.
Text of Steve Smith's testimony
All data I'm referring to tonight to comes from the CT Conference of Municipalities 2015 Salary Survey. I don't have a PowerPoint but I hope to have a link to the entire survey posted on the Middletown Eye by tomorrow.
It is a very revealing document that breaks down municipal salaries by city population. Middletown falls in the 40-50,000 population range with 9 other towns. Any figures I refer to are supported by that survey.
Middletown is the 5th largest of the 10 cities in the 40-50K range. That being said, of the 22 individual positions listed (everything from mayor to council stipends to town clerk, city attorney, planning, etc) Middletown (as the fifth largest – squarely in the middle of the pack) ranked in the top 3 highest salaries in 18 of 22. That's 81%. We ranked as either the highest or second highest paying in HALF of the positions listed.
In the course of this presentation, I am going to refer to some individual positions and salary increases. I have no issue with the individual holding these positions. I do have an issue with some extraordinary salary increases being given in the same year when 15 teachers were just told they would not be rehired because in a town where the education and city budgets are roughly 50/50, education got a .89% increase of an overall 2.3 % total budget increase.
Having had some first-hand experience with the city attorney regarding ballot access a few years ago, I'll start with the legal department. As the 5th largest city in the group, Middletown BY FAR has the highest salary expenditures for the City attorney's office. Middletown's total expenditures are 75% higher than the average of all other towns. The individual City Attorney's salary is 80% above the average. Wallingford, with 2200 fewer residents spends 23% of what Middletown spends on attorney salaries. We spend roughly 4 times what a smaller town spends.
Middletown once again ranks number 1 in salary expenditures in the mayor/legislative department. The total that I'm using reflects the recent 25% increase given to the Mayor's Chief of Staff – a position created by the mayor for his administration which now pays a salary equal to 94% of what the mayor makes.
In another chart from the CCM survey which combines the salaries of the Director and deputy director of Water Pollution control authority Economic development director, planning office, Middletown AGAIN ranks number 1 in expenditures coming in at 52% above the average.
In yet another chart including the town clerks office, The IT director and Public works, Middletown, Again as the fifth largest town, reported the highest salary expenditure. This time only a modest 27% over the average.
In closing I would simply like to point out that if we take the salary increase that two positions on the city side received, and throw in the $45K tax abatement council just approved for a developer we are at about $100,000. Using just these three examples, three people got 1/7 (14%) of what the Mayor is asking you to give collectively, to every student in the Middletown school system and 15 teachers lost their jobs.