At their November 1 meeting, the Board of Education was happy to report that the state budget is approved and that the results were favorable for New Fairfield. Of particular import to the Board of Education was the full restoration of ECS (Education Cost Sharing) funds. Mr. Ed Sbordone noted that overall the town is “going to fare well for this year and next year.” Dr. Alicia Roy is going to ask for unappropriated funds back from the BOF for a total of $313,148.13. The BOF may not give all of the funds back, but statutes allow the BOE to ask. Mr. Sbordone explained that the mill rate will go down next year, which is helpful.
Dr. Amy Tozzo, on behalf of the Board, contracted with Cooperative Education Services (CES) superintendent search firm. The firm suggested that the Board create a subcommittee for the search. “After the election, the new Board can come together and pick three or four Board members that can meet with the consultants.” The new subcommittee will act as a filter for the larger Board. Dr. Tozzo noted that a very broad survey has been created and will be posted on the school’s website. In December there will be focus groups for administrators, faculty, staff, students, community, and parents. Mr. Douglas DeRito explained that CES suggested that the Board vote to make the entire Board the search committee to protect the search’s confidentiality. The committee also created a newsletter that will go out.
In Board member comments, Mr. Steve Burfeind thanked everyone for the opportunity to serve as chair, “It has been a rewarding experience.” He wished candidates and colleagues well and thanked exiting members. He particularly thanked Mr. Kevin
Hearty, “You’ve always been a steward for a fair and balanced approach, asked the right questions, and led the Curriculum Subcommittee admirably.”
Exiting member Dr. Jay Voss asked to make a couple of comments “and most of them are thank yous.” He stated that “I am convinced that we all have the best interests of students at heart.” He went on to thank all of his colleagues, but pointedly thanked Mr. Burfeind and Dr. Alicia Roy. Of Chairmen Burfeind, Voss said he appreciated his “…calm and wise demeanor in navigating some of the contentious Board meetings…It’s always a challenge to find a balance between open and free speech and respect for the individual and this institution.”
Dr. Voss went on to commend Dr. Roy for her “immense courage in standing her ground amidst cruel and hateful statements…I will continue to believe that she has been a positive force for educational change in this district.” He went on to suggest that the new Board “Pick a superintendent who is going to improve on what we already have here.” In his experience, “the best is a superintendent who is a true CEO with an expertise in delegating authority, and who has excellent listening and political skills…” He stressed that “Under no circumstances…should the new superintendent sit anywhere else than where Dr. Roy sits now.”
Mr. Kevin Hearty thanked everyone for the opportunity to serve on the Board. He joked about falling into the role 12 years ago and said “this is really weird for me.” He emphasized his respect for his fellow members, especially Chair Steve Burfeind. Of Burfeind he said “I’m really proud of you.” He thanked past Board members and said, “I tried to be honest, I tried to be fair-minded, and objective, and I hope you saw that.”
In his chairmen’s report, Mr. Burfeind reminded everyone that the election is coming up next Tuesday, 11/7. Six seats will be filled in the election, and Mr. Burfeind’s seat will be filled by the new Board. He explained that the Board will hold a special meeting during the week of 11/27 to fill that seat. They will invite any candidates who have submitted letters of interest by 11/17 and will vote to fill the seat that night.
In voting on the personnel report, Dr. Amy Tozzo asked about a math position that was being changed from a full-time position to a .6. Dr. Tozzo was concerned about students needing more support. Dr. Roy explained that the district will continue to look for a .4 and that the position is intended to be restored to full-time next year.
In discussing the Middle School strings .2 position, Dr. Roy explained that there is logic behind the somewhat cryptic personnel reports that may include reductions. The strings position reduction was on the April personnel report and the Board voted favorably for the report. Dr. Roy pointed out that any reductions will be much more clear on the reports going forward, saying “I don’t want it to look like we’re trying to hide anything here.” She plans to use a federal Title 1 grant, an entitlement program, to shift monies and allow the district to fully fund the strings position. The Board unanimously voted to approve the strings position.
In discussing the issue of transparency surrounding reductions, Board members Mr. DeRito, Dr. Tozzo, and Ms. Samantha Mannion all expressed frustration regarding the veiled reporting on the personnel reports.
Dr. Roy noted that with declining enrollment, the future superintendent and board will be challenged with decisions regarding programs that may have lower attendance. For example, she pointed out that the art program was reduced at the high school right now, which was a result of student course choices. She further punctuated the issue by mentioning that enrollment at the High School will be 843 students next year, which is lower than it has been in years.
The Board also voted to approve first and third Thursday BOE meetings during 2018.
The Board also voted on Title I, III, and IV grants. Dr. Roy explained that the funds are entitlement grants and the district is guaranteed the monies. Mr. DeRito asked to get a reporting of what funds the district would receive that is not included in the budget. Dr. Roy expressed interest in using the new title 1 funds for a reading teacher position for the Middle and High School. When asked, Dr. Roy said that this person could work with special education students, but will also work with the full population. The Title III grant includes $4,269 in stipends for after school work with English language learners. The Title IV grant includes $10K to be used for the .2 MHHS strings teacher, which the Board voted on at the previous meeting. The Title V grant would allow the district to bring in a speaker to talk about the dangers of alcohol and drugs, plus be used towards the PostGrad party. The Board voted to approve moving forward with all four grants.
The Curriculum Committee met to discuss elementary grading and report cards. Dr. Jason McKinnon, Chief Academic Officer, led the discussion on altering the reporting to help parents understand their child’s progression. The group also talked about the AP exams.
The Communication/Community Outreach Subcommittee met to talk more about possibly changing school start times at the Middle and High Schools. They are waiting for a survey. They also discussed possibly adding a street light at the entrance of the High School. The group was reminded that there was a study of that intersection. The Subcommittee is asking that the Board discuss both issues at the 12/7 meeting, plus invite the First Selectman who would need to be involved since Gillotti is a state road.
In Board member comments, Mr. Douglas thanked fellow members who are leaving and said, “At the end of the day…they all have fingerprints on the education of the community.”
He went on to say, “We have a tremendous slate of candidates across the board…I hope [the community] exercises their right to vote.”
Mr. Cipillone asked to thank Mr. Mandracchia and staff of MHHS for their work on Fright Night. The night “spoke volumes to what this community represents.” He also thanked the four members who are leaving. He said in reference to Ms. Mannion and Mr. Sbordone, “Whatever decisions are made next Tuesday…the Board is in good hands with the members who will be the anchors of the new Board.”
In her superintendent’s report, Dr. Roy highlighted many of the exciting events that have happened recently, including the monster run and a scholar night. She noted that conferences continue at the schools and reminded everyone that there is no school on election day. She talked about the recent storm and downed trees and thanked everyone for understanding and working together. She read a referee’s note that said that the varsity girls’ soccer team sang the national anthem when the audio system went down at a recent game, impressing attendees. She reported that the school won a CT Boards of Education (CABE) award for the district website and budget communication materials. Dr. Roy thanked the four members who are retiring from the Board. She applauded the way that they’ve all served on the board, noting in particular that Chair Burfeind has “led the Board with true grace.”
In the student report, Hannah Rigoglioso mentioned that the high school has been very busy with homecoming and spirit week activities. She said the first House of Rebel-sentatives meeting of the year will be 11/15. Also, she pointed out that there have been many accolades in fall sports.
BOE candidate Rick Regan stood up to thank the retiring Board of Education members. He questioned Dr. Voss’ previous meeting’s comment that about the difficulty of finding the right superintendent. Dr. Voss later addressed Mr. Regan in his farewell comments, saying that he hoped that he had answered his question.
The Board of Education will have a special meeting in the week of November 27. The next regular BOE meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 7.
By Sarah Opdahl