Tuesday night's regular Board of Education Meeting was a busy one: Superintendent Michael Frechette reported on snow days (4 taken so far, not many left), the projected district enrollment for the next 10 years (will remain fairly flat with a bubble in the current 2nd grade), and the difference between his wish list
and the list of support needs the district has.
Assistant Superintendent Barbara Senges talked at length about the District Data Teams, noting that technically, this is the last year of the 3-year District Improvement Plan mandated by Middletown's performance levels on the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs). In a recent meeting, it was decided that instead of writing a new plan for the next three years, the district will continue with its current plan. This is for two reasons: first, all the parts of the original plan aren't implemented yet, and second, the original plan is working and Middletown is off the "needs improvement" list for the first time in several years. Senges also passed on several compliments from the State Representative who visits all 16 districts in CT with improvement plans: "She said that in all the districts she visits, no one has the depth of conversation Middletown has...and she's never seen a group with the same level of instructional leadership as we do."
The hot seat for the evening belonged to Facilities Director Ken Jackson as there are still issues at MHS with a failed retaining wall, lighting and acoustical problems in the pool area, and cracked seats in the auditorium. The good news, though, is that the seat company is replacing all 1,000 auditorium seats under warranty. Jackson also asked the BOE for $5000 for an Engineering Study to tackle the electrical issues at Woodrow Wilson Middle School. The school had its second electrical fire on January 19th, but the problem stems from CL&P's phase dropout issues on that side of town. While an infrastructure update will ultimately solve the problem once and for all, that's CL&P's decision, and in the meantime, Jackson has to take measures to prevent future fires and to protect power to the district's server. When WWMS loses power, power to the district's server is also lost, which affects the ability of every school in the district to access the internet. This loss of internet service also means the district can't use its Honeywell Emergency system to notify parents. This was obvious on Jan. 19 when the school was evacuated and kids sent home early, but the district couldn't call parents to tell them their kids were on their way home. Jackson told the Board he wants to have an electrical study of the system to see how to get surge protection, but that he will also be looking to install an emergency generator to protect power to the server.
The most interesting topic of the evening, though, came from a quick comment during the public session. A gentleman (and I didn't catch his name, I apologize) thanked the BOE for returning SRO's (School Resource Officer) back to Middletown High. "The teachers really appreciate it and the officers are excited to be there and they're really settling in." Then the gentleman went on to add, "I also urge the board to consider some kind of policy to control the slanderous comments made during the Public Session...people just get up here and say stuff that isn't true."
MHS Principal Robert Fontaine then gave a "State of Middletown High" speech. (This was still during the public comment session where speakers have 3 minutes and when the timer beeps, BOE Chairman Ted Raczka cuts the speaker off mid-sentence.) Fontaine had lots of nice things to say about how the climate is improving at MHS and how the data teams are making are improving instruction and how suspensions are down. Notably, though, when the 3-minute timer beeped, Fontaine kept talking...
Toward the end of the meeting when Policy Committee Chair Sally Boske was updating the Board on policy issues, she noted that the committee would be considering a "policy on public comment."
Now why is this interesting (especially
to this EYE reporter)? Just over a year ago, the BOE amended Bylaw 9325(a)
to limit public comment to 3 minutes a person down from 5 minutes a person. The Board has been routinely criticized for this limitation. The MHS Principal could have been added to the agenda in any number of places as a legitimate report to the board, but he choose to use public comment time and he wasn't limited to 3 minutes. And it wasn't like he was just allowed to finish his sentence or even a paragraph. He continued speaking for at least another 2 -3 minutes past the allotted time. And now, the policy committee will be looking to create what kind of policy?
Bylaw 9325(a) currently allows "any individual or group to address the Board concerning any subject that lies within its jurisdiction..." The only restriction possible is that the subject of the public address has to be a matter that the BOE has control over. So, for example, someone couldn't complain to the BOE about how public works removes or doesn't remove snow from corners in Middletown. I'll be curious to see just what comes next...a tax-paying citizen can only talk to his or her elected officials in a public setting if...if...the subject is nice and doesn't point out any deficiencies? Oh wait, maybe only if the citizen has personal knowledge of a problem (meaning he or she was actually there on school property to witness the concern) and it's the second Wednesday of the fourth month of an odd year.
Hmm. I guess I'm going to have to dig out my first amendment again...