Friday, October 18, 2019

Giuliano's Education Plans: Disaster for Middletown Public Education

COMMENTARY/OPINION:  Ed McKeon is a Democratic candidate for Common Council, and author on the Middletown Eye.  This commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinions of his Democratic running mates, nor other blog authors.  Ed supports Ben Florsheim for mayor.

Everything you need to know about Republican mayoral candidate Seb Giuliano's unenthusiastic support of public education in Middletown is evident in his vote on the Common Council's 2019-2020 budget.

See Giuliano's proposed cuts at
52 minutes into the video
archive of the budget meeting.
In a move that shocked many of his Council colleagues, Giuliano proposed cutting all of the proposed increases to the education budget.  

His proposal came at a time when our new, respected, energetic and innovative Superintendent of Schools, Michael Conner, and his team have made huge strides in the city's education.  Achievement scores have made significant advances.  School readiness is at an all-time high.  Enrollment is up as students return to the district from charter and magnet schools.  And our district is gaining the attention of other districts hoping to move their students ahead.

Giuliano's proposal would have gutted the Superintendent's plans.

Teachers would have been laid off.

Class size would have increased dramatically.

Programs helping the most vulnerable students would have disappeared.

Programs providing additional support to exceptional students would have been scrapped.

Of course, when it came down to it, Giuliano demonstrated a complete lack of political backbone, demonstrating that he was merely grandstanding, and voted with his colleagues to pass the budget.

But candidate Giuliano's continued attempts to derail the education budget is evident everywhere from his campaign website, to his Facebook page, to his appearances on local cable talk shows.

Last night (Thursday October 17) Common Council candidates gathered to talk about goals, if elected.  With one exception, all candidates, Democratic and Republican, made it clear that education was a top goal for the city and for the Common Council.

Giuliano, on the other hand, displayed his lack of concern for education by posting a facile, misleading and meaningless graphic on his Facebook page.  The graphic oversimplifies the complexity of education budgets, the vast differences that exist district-by-district in Connecticut and the simply ignores the specific needs of students in a town like Middletown, as opposed to the needs, of students in a towns like Glastonbury, Simsbury or Westport.

Finally, while all Democratic Common Council and Board of Education candidates agree that the Board of Education should have complete control over the hiring of all employees, Giuliano, on his campaign website makes an argument to keep a faulty system just the way it is.

The current system allows the city (the mayor) to hire all non-certified employees (maintenance personnel, secretaries, administrative staff, cafeteria workers, finance department personnel, etc.)

The problems with the current system are plentiful.

The current practice perpetuates a patronage system in which the mayor may reward supporters, friends, family and associates with jobs.  Often, the Superintendent is forced to accept candidates who are less-qualified and less-motivated to perform the duties of the job.  In addition, the management of those employees reverts to the city.  If an employee is not capable of performing the duties of the job, or worse still, acts in a way that is not in the best interest of the school system, the BOE is stymied in their ability to discipline or dismiss that employee (always within contractual obligations, of course).

Giuliano argues that the city is more capable of supervising, and dealing with functions that are not education-related.

However, without casting aspersions on any current staffer, whether it's a school that is not properly cleaned by a maintenance staff member, or a meal that is ill-prepared by a cafeteria worker, or a spreadsheet that is not properly formatted by a finance department worker, it can all have a deleterious effect on the quality of education.  The superintendent, and the Board of Education, must be the arbiter of whether those employees are performing their jobs well.

The city should not hold itself up as a model for managing employees when no employee on the city side has been subject to a regular, scheduled performance evaluation in years.

The current system has proven, historically, to be divisive, inefficient and ineffective.  It has cost the city and the school valuable dollars, and it has regularly driven a wedge between the city and the BOE.  When there is hostility between the mayor and superintendent (and Giuliano's hostility is well-documented), it can create problems that actually affect the performance of students.

Giuliano suggests a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) will solve the problem.  As an attorney, he should recognize that such documents signed in the past between the city and the schools, have not been worth the paper they were printed on.

If, like all the Common Council candidate, you are concerned with making our schools even better, I urge you to vote for Ben Florsheim for mayor.  Florsheim has vowed to support our schools, and our superintendent as he strives to improve access and achievement for all students.

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