NEW FAIRFIELD – At their February 1 meeting, the board finalized the 2018-19 budget to the tune of $42,908,328, a 4.90% increase over the current year.
The board discussed six areas for further discussion that came out of their budget workshop meeting on January 30: the amount to set aside for the special education contingency funds, the proposed safety advocate positions, possibly adding a 6th grade teacher to the new position requests, a possibly dedicated HR position, the proposed tennis court repair, and possible consultant fees for investigating changing school start times.
Ms. Peggy Katkocin urged that the board discuss the items with the aim to go to the BOF with an “honest budget,” saying, “I don’t want us to put things in with the idea that. I would rather go to the Board of Finance and defend the things that we feel strongly about and that we need.”
The group decided to go through each item in turn. Regarding the tennis court repair, the board discussed the possibilities of sharing costs with the town. For the time being, the board voted to keep the tennis court repairs in the budget as it stands.
Board members discussed the merit of adding two new positions to the budget–a human resources director and a 6th grade math teacher. They also talked about whether to keep the two safety advocate positions in the budget. Ultimately, the board agreed to not add the HR position, to keep the safety advocates, and to add the 6th grade math teacher position.
The group hotly debated the efficacy of the safety advocates with board members in varying degrees of support for the positions. There was contention over whether they would add to the schools’ safety sufficiently. In the end, they decided to keep them in the budget with a 5-2 vote with 2 abstentions.
The board voted to decrease the special education contingency fund to $150K from $200K. They also agreed that money for a consultant to investigate school start times is unnecessary at this time.
In board member comments, Mr. Ed Sbordone asked that the group add an agenda item for the 2/15 meeting for a discussion on how best to present the budget to the BOF.
Ms. Alison Herold walked the board members through the district’s Technology Plan. She described that the comprehensive plan aligns to both the state and national guidelines. The plan accounts for academic goals, as well as hardware and software needs. She spoke of sophisticated networking, with agile and responsive flexibility. Given the importance of data, and especially privacy, Ms. Herold described the careful and watchful handling of all systems. She also detailed a rigorous filter for viruses.
The board voted to adopt four new high school courses, including AP Spanish Literature and Composition, expanded Coding classes at introductory and AP levels, and a new Perspectives English course. In the Curriculum Subcommittee report, Mr. Dominic Cipollone described Perspectives as a class he’d “like to audit.” The other classes also supported what he hopes will continue to be a push for higher “academic rigor.”
Ms. Samantha Mannion gave a synopsis of a “marathon” Policy Subcommittee meeting, in which they discussed 18 policies. She explained that one policy was tabled for further discussion, one was ready for the board to vote on at this meeting, and 16 were ready for a first review. The board will review the 16 policies twice more. Mr. Douglas DeRito proposed a motion to have one of the policies returned to the subcommittee for rewording. The board voted to approve the policy that adds a second public comment session in the board meetings, which will fall after action items and before board member comments.
Ms. Kathy Baker spoke about the Communications/Community Outreach Subcommittee meeting, highlighting a continued discussion about the entrance to the Middle/High School complex and the feasibility of adding a traffic light. They also discussed school conference half days. The Middle School will be piloting a new plan for the March conferences and feedback will be gleaned for future planning.
In her chairman’s report, Ms. Katkocin noted that there is an upcoming Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) meeting about changing school start times. She also reminded parents to adhere to the health policies and keep children home for as long as necessary.
Dr. Alicia Roy mentioned that she attended fantastic chorus, orchestra, and band concerts at the Middle School and Meeting House Hill School last week. She said “kudos to everyone involved with…those performances.” She also reported that the High School will be getting a state civil rights compliance review at the end of the year. She said that the final report will be shared with the public. The food service will also be reviewed. Finally, she let everyone know that the MHHS school psychologist, Sarah Pinheiro, will be attending a national conference on the district’s behalf.
High School representative, Hannah Rigoglioso, detailed a number of awards and achievements that fellow students have earned. She also explained that high school students will be able to sign up for 2018-19 courses next week.
In public comments, Ms. Samantha Kennedy took to the podium to support the idea of changing school start times. Ms. Laura Consiglio encouraged the board to further consider the possibility of danger at the entrance to the secondary schools. And Ms. Jennifer Brakenwagen questioned the number of superintendent candidates and whether there was sufficient compensation on the table. She was reassured on both scores.
The next regular Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, February 15, 7:00pm.
By Sarah Opdahl