NEW FAIRFIELD – On May 18, the Board had an animated discussion about a potential new position. Though there was widespread support among the members for the position, currently titled District Transition Teacher, there were concerns regarding the position’s title and scope, the haste in voting, and several issues surrounding budget.
Ms. Andrea Einhorn, PPS Director, described the potential position’s role, which would entail overseeing special needs students from ages 15 to 21 in an educational and vocational program. Students would spend a portion of their week at the High School in academic and life skills study, and the rest of the time employed at local businesses. On par with similar regional schools, this program and subsequent position would allow students currently being outsourced to return to the district.
Board member concerns were many. Regarding the budget, the position was described as having zero impact as the costs for no longer outsourcing the students would defray the salary of the new position. In the interests of transparency, Mr. Douglas DeRito questioned why the position wasn’t originally described this way when it was introduced and especially why it didn’t come up when the Board weighed budget cut items. “What we didn’t discuss was that these were monies already being expended by the district…And that’s my problem with this.” He said, “I’m not against this, but I find myself with a lot of questions that are unanswered right now.” Dr. Jay Voss was dismayed about other potential new positions, such as the safety advocates, that are currently off the table, “I have a philosophical issue with this.” Dr. Alicia Roy stated that when she added the District Transition Teacher to the list of items to cut she believed “we could cover this [position] with students coming back.” Mr. DeRito asked for more information regarding any future impact the position would have to the budget, especially since the Board is not aware of what exact services the students are receiving at the other schools now.
Budget questions continued when Dr. Amy Tozzo pondered whether the position should begin at a part-time level, given the current financial situation. She also stressed that they cannot guarantee that outsourced students will want to return to the district. “Right now we have one student, maybe a second, at the most five.” In regards to budget, she said “When the Board of Finance looks at that we’re adding teachers and our enrollment is going down, they don’t see what we’re talking about.”
Ms. Samantha Mannion would like to see the job description rewritten and a title change to facilitator or coordinator instead of teacher. She said “…if you tell me this person is a teacher, then the position description should be written as if they’re teaching.” She was also dismayed at the apparent need for a speedy decision, “I feel like we got this position description two days ago and now it’s like our feet are being held to the fire to vote.” Mr. DeRito echoed her thoughts by reflecting on Dr. Roy’s need to get to the table with the union, “We have to rush, but the union doesn’t.”
Ultimately, the Board agreed to table the discussion of the new position until the June 1 meeting. In the meantime, Dr. Roy will engage the teacher’s union to have initial discussions and negotiate the position.
Mr. Ed Sbordone explained that the town Board of Finance is continuing to experience budget dilemmas with increased monies due to the state. There are a number of line items that will continue to impact education finances, especially the state’s proposal to significantly cut and redirect special education grants and funding. Board members were appreciative that the vote, though a low turnout, was favorable for the education budget. In parent comment’s, Rick Regan urged everyone to watch the 5/17 BOF meeting and be happy that the education budget passed in its current state.
In addition to the discussion about the District Transition Teacher, Ms. Einhorn and PPS supervisors, Ms. Lauren Pessin and Ms. Katherine Matz, attended the BOE meeting to highlight the many advancements in the PPS department this year. They explained that communication is their primary focus, shifting among PPS, parents, teachers, administration, and students. They have honed their IEP writing skills, have worked with faculty to encourage advanced training in programs such as Wilson reading, and they are targeting for data collection to best measure student growth. They highlighted the strength and popularity of Unified Sports and the new theater and buddies programs. Dr. Tozzo pointed out that these programs are largely funded by state grants and wondered whether support will be cut.
Mr. Sbordone reported that the Business Operations/ Resource Management Subcommittee discussed budget transfers, which are all in line with predictions. He also explained that the group discussed a septic system issue at MHHS, which is being investigated by town Health Department officials. Also, the team discussed raising school lunch prices by 25 cents at the High/Middle Schools and 15 cents at MHHS/Consolidated. The Board later voted unanimously to approve raising the prices.
The Board voted unanimously to adopt the new Blue Pelican Java and social studies textbooks that were previously described at the 5/4 BOE meeting. They also voted unanimously to accept the proposed 2018-19 academic calendar, which includes having the Monday after Easter off.
High school seniors of the Digital Academy program spoke about their current project and experiences in the lead up to their science expo on Saturday, 5/20. Throughout the school year, the group has studied how light affects plant growth, in particular using commercial equipment in combination with solar panels. The students all praised the program and point to it as having given them a great foundation for leadership, teamwork, problem solving, communication skills, and more.
Dr. Roy reported on several remarkable National French Exam awards, including a perfect score for an 8th grader. She also noted that the High School art show is outstanding, that the MHHS band and chorus concert was wonderful, and the Shining Star Awards will be given out soon. High school representatives mentioned that the senior prom is coming up and the See projects are underway.
In parent comments, Craig David Rosen stood up to ask Board members to heed the standing vote of no confidence that many parents have in Dr. Roy.
Parent Laura Consiglio expressed gratitude the budget has passed, but cautioned the Board to spend resources wisely. She was surprised by the announcement that steel gates had been installed at the Middle School without having ever heard mention of them at this, or any other, forum. “I thought the timing was poor, after our proclaiming that there was no fat in the budget.”
The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 1, 7:00 p.m.
By Sarah Opdahl