Friday, April 15, 2016

Parents, Students, Teachers, Residents Come Out In Force To Oppose Cuts to School Budget

Note:  As a citizen journalist, I would typically take copious notes at a meeting like this.  I took a few, and then realized I couldn't really listen carefully, be involved and take notes simultaneously.  So this report will be short, and general in nature.  It will also include the full text of Steve Smith's comments.  I invite any participant to send their printed speeches to the Eye (, and we will be happy to print them here.  The Eye also welcomes responsible responses from the mayor, members of the Common Council or members of our legislative delegation.

Normally a poorly-attended meeting, the quarterly Common Council citizen's forum was packed on Thursday evening.  As one of the final chances to address potential cuts to the school budget, parents, students, teachers, residents, Board of Education members and other education staff filled Council chambers to overflowing.  Two Council members were not in attendance, Tom Serra and Phil Pessina who is vacationing out of the country

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.


Anonymous said...

And yet everyone voted for Drew - again. These salaries are ridiculous. I want my tax money spent on meaningful things that help to make our city one that people want to live in. Good schools are a huge part of that. I am so sick of all of this.
Jennifer Peifer

Anonymous said...

Ruh oh, shifty dan doesn't like it when you present real independent facts like Mr. Smith did. Oh he'll spin it, but dude got caught throwing rocks at a glass house. He'll lie his way out of it, because that is the middletown way; if you say it more than once, it's the truth.

Anonymous said...

Everyone should read these contracts in detail. Appalling, especially in today's world.

Anonymous said...

Could someone tell me what we pay the top people in the boe compare to other town

Karen Radziewicz said...

Here we go with some real independent facts:
Have you seen what the superintendent, the associate superintendent, and the director of fine arts & operations makes in the City of Middletown? And they're OK with cutting 15 teachers?! These leaders are making much more than anyone at City Hall - mayoral salary is $90,000.

These high salaries for top level administrators in education should be on the chopping block before teaching jobs. Cutting teaching positions is what has a negative impact on student learning. Instead of closing a school or cutting teaching positions, they need to look at top administrative pay.
For the record,
the director of fine arts & operations earns $132,170, the adsociate superintendent is slated to earn $179,909 and the superintendent of schools will make $213,948. Additionally, administrators who have attained a doctoral degree also receive a $2,000 stipend.
My name is Karen, and again, I stand up for teachers and for public education.

Anonymous said...

This town couldn't take redistricting because the idea would be horrific but now with Drew who also was on attendance at the meeting wants to give less and do away with an entire school period why children cry at the idea that teachers and programs and some sports are looking to be cut. But we have the future of Middletown in mind the town says. Whats a future if all the children are running wild in the street or uneducated with no bright future ahead due to the city not investing in its future at its root its children they are our future

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Thanks Karen, but the mayor is not required to meet the same educational degrees as the superintendent. And I, personally, wouldn't trade Pat Charles, or her staff another. I think those three you mention are paid what they're worth, and probably less so.

I'm, in fact, in favor of paying teachers more than they get. It's one of the problems in this country - no real respect for the job teachers do. While you're at it, why not compare the full administrative cost of City Hall to the full administrative cost of the schools. I think you'd be surprised.

The system cannot function well without competent administrators. I think we've proven that in Middletown. Please don't mistake my support for administrators with less than support for teachers.

I'm not sure of your point, really. Do we cut administrative salaries in half. Get the kind of administrators available at those salaries, and hope for the best?

Or do we support all of the district - administrators and teachers.

Thanks, for posting your name. It's appreciated. We only posted one of the four comments you left because they appeared to be redundant.

Karen said...

My comments may have been slightly redundant, but they were attached to 2 or 3 different, yet similar, articles on your blog.
I'm suggesting to take a look at those salaries, maybe they don't need to be cut by half, but by some, perhaps.
I wasn't suggesting more pay for teachers... just keep the teachers! That's what we need - the teachers on the front lines, the social workers on the front lines.

The administrators that are getting paid these sizable salaries - I'm not sure, lower their pay or combine their positions... or instead of having four top level administrators have only 3 and maybe they will have to work a little harder - sorry, but the teachers sure are working harder, and for much less pay (since you through that out there).

Karen said...

threw... threw that out there (sp error;)

Lisa said...

Ed, I know you're standing up for education and I believe in what you're doing and saying. I just feel passionately about saving as many teaching positions as possible and not closing any schools (Remember all of the emotions the redistributing proposal stirred up?). The latest info on found regarding superintendent salary schedules in our DRG did not have all salaries listed, but from what I saw, our superintendent makes $40,000 more than any other superintendent in that same group, assuming that the info. Is correct. I really want to reiterate that I would love to have ZERO budget cuts but I think if we're faced with that reality, everyone has to share in the cuts. I know our superintendent spends many evenings at meetings, etc. but so do teachers, and that's after a full day of teaching. We need to try to save the jobs of the people on the front line: teachers, paras, nurses. Without them, what good is the rest?

Anonymous said...

On top of her $213,948 salary is a 20,948 annuity (this is on top of her required contribution to teacher retirement with the state) and $6,500 travel allowance. That's half a teacher. Other superintendent salaries: West Hartford $202,910, Manchester $188,700, Naugatuck $166,860, Meriden $173,376, Wethersfield $180,250, Southington $179,910. More than like districts for sure.