At the Thursday, April 20, Board of Education meeting, Board Member Ed Sbordone reported on the town BOF budget-markup meeting that was held 4/19. He explained that the 0% budget was accepted with no additional funding for proposed positions. There was a further reduction to the budget when the BOF decided that the GASB 45 would not be paid out of operational money, but instead be funded by the Medical Fund balance.
In addition, based on the medical consultant’s review, they reduced $183K off medical expenditures for 2017/18. Finally, they estimate that debt can be reworked to save approximately $159K per year, over the next two years, in future interest payments. With the most recent changes, the school budget stands at: $40, 905, 128. May 3 will be the town’s annual budget meeting. A town vote will likely be held on Saturday, May 13.
Many Board members were extremely disappointed with the budget results. Dr. Amy Tozzo stated, in reference to the positions that were prioritized as budget critical but didn’t make the cut, that “Once again, kids are not coming first in this town. And it’s really shameful.” Dr. Jay Voss and Samantha Mannion agreed that the BOF delivered a “slap on the hand” to the BOE. Voss described that as “discouraging, humiliating in a lot of ways, and condescending.” Board Chair Steve Burfeind said that the BOE could still figure out a way to rework their finances and keep the most critical positions however, he noted that “it’s a very difficult task.”
In an aside on finances, Dr. Alicia Roy noted that a Go Fund Me page had recently been created to fill a teacher’s class material needs. The page has now been taken down and all of the needs have been met. She reminded teachers to go to their supervisors for any additional necessary classroom funding.
Dr. Roy shared the Connecticut Next Generation Accountability Report. Though the information is compiled and reported for the previous year, it gives the district a good baseline for academic achievement and shows that there has been improvement for all students. There was a discussion about how best to read the report. Dr. Roy explained that the target for each line item is what the schools are working hard to reach, both at a district and student level. Douglas DeRito suggested that Board members compare rankings between similar school districts and he offered to complete a comparison report.
Dominic Cipollone agreed that comparing schools would be helpful and suggested that they could learn from schools with higher rankings. Dr. Roy noted that the report results justify the current curriculum revamp. She also stressed that professional development will be a continued focus going forward.
There was a discussion about the participation rates in standardized testing. The number of children opting out of testing has decreased over last year. Dominic Cipollone pointed out that the last couple of years of high opt-outs were part of a backlash against common core. Though Board members agreed that the testing is not for every child, and that parents have a right to opt out, they hope that there will be far fewer opt-outs this year and going forward. There will be a letter going out to families to stress the importance of test participation.
Business Operations/Resource Management Committee has been working on budget transfers. They also looked at the health insurance plan options and will be discussing them further next week. The Park and Recreation Committee met to discuss tasks that need to be completed to ready the beaches and marinas for the summer season. A shaded, gazebo-like structure project is underway near the town playground.
The Board voted to suspend the by-law for the number of required curriculum reviews and proceed to a vote on adopting the new science textbooks/curriculum–grades K-3, Foss and grades 4-8, HMH Dimensions. They unanimously agreed to adopt the programs. In Board member comments, Kevin Hearty questioned whether they are allowed to bypass a second review and go straight to an action item once an agenda has been approved. Steve Burfeind will investigate and they may need to vote on it again at the next meeting.
The Board accepted the donation of a pitch counter, valued at $3K, from the New Fairfield High School Booster Club. There is a new requirement to track pitches in baseball, in order to protect students’ arms and shoulders. There is a formula for translating amount of pitches to necessary rest days.
Ms. Mary Stolle, Athletic Director, presented on the upcoming Kid’s Marathon at Meeting House Hill School. The marathon is an 8 to 10 week “in school” running program. Students keep personal logs, learn health and nutrition tips, and more. The final mile celebration will be held on June 10.
Next, Ms. Stolle gave the Board an overview of the Physical Education Accountability Index. She highlighted the elements of the CPFA (Connecticut Physical Fitness Assessment) test, which includes sit-ups, push-ups, running, and more. The PE departments at MHHS, the Middle School, and the High School are all making an effort to improve scores, which will translate to better student health. Dominic Cipollone suggested that the teachers give summer physical fitness suggestions to students, similar to summer reading lists.
Michelle Embree Ku, representing CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education), presented the Board with an award of Excellence in Communication for the Superintendent’s Recommended Budget Book of 2016-17.
Dr. Roy noted that there have been a lot of exciting events recently, including students singing the national anthem at a Mets Game and she thanked everyone involved in putting that event together. The Unified Theater program’s student-written play was a huge success. Samantha Mannion said of the play that it was “It was extraordinary…the joy on those kid’s faces, they were beaming.”
The High School is holding “Kindness Week” next week. There will be a series of activities throughout the week designed to spread kindness among students.
Resident Scott March thanked the Board for the changes that have been made, new programs that have been developed, and he acknowledged that the general state of things are better in the district. He was dismayed to have been one of only two parents present at the 4/19 Board of Finance meeting and is nervous that the BOF isn’t seeing the strides that have been made and won’t fully support even the 0% budget. He implored fellow parents and residents to take action to support the schools and budget. Douglas DeRito reiterated Mr. March’s thoughts and said “we need the community to step up and be heard from.”
By Sarah Opdahl