By Sarah Opdahl
At their May 20 meeting, the Board of Education heard the administration’s initial ideas on how to spend over $2.5M. The monies are being funded through the third stimulus round, The American Rescue Plan. “New Fairfield will never get a gift like this again,” Superintendent Dr. Pat Cosentino predicted. She explained that administrators have considered the best ways to spend the money over the next few years—it needs to be spent by September of 2024—keeping in mind that any positions that are funded through this money will either be terminated or will need to be incorporated into a future budget.
Board members will have a week to digest the list of items that the administrators have proposed—they are holding a special meeting on Thursday, May 27 at 6:00 p.m. to vote on appropriating the funds. Cosentino encouraged board members to send questions to her prior to the special meeting. Right away, however, Ms. Stephanie Strazza—a member and emphatic supporter of the new diversity team—questioned the high-ticket salary for a new two-year administrator, Director of Diversity Equity, and Inclusion at a projected $310K. She asked that job descriptions be prepared for new positions to help delineate expectations. Mr. Dominic Cipillone said later in board member comments that he thinks the spending should be focused on curriculum, student expertise, and readiness.
Ensuring the BOE that the list can be revised, Cosentino said that the overall plan is to spend $1.725M on staffing, from two-year positions as described above to additional coaches, interventionists, counselors, and more. They also proposed a new Teachers in Residence program and increased substitute pay. Cosentino explained $775K would be spent on expanding programs and professional learning. She said that she is happy to include items that help to train and reinforce the existing staff, rather than adding a large amount of services that would potentially be taken away when the money is spent. The remainder of the money in the administration’s proposed plan would be spent on HVAC issues at New Fairfield Middle School and the school lunch program.
Cosentino gave an update on her yearly goals, relating specific accomplishments back to individual goals. She also looked forward to the future in the update, with most goals continuing on into the new year. For example, where one of this year’s biggest goals had been to create a reopening plan, next year’s plan will be equally important, as the full student body returns in the fall. She touched on the many technological improvements that have been made or are in the works, the extensive professional development that has been and will be occurring, and the communications plans that are becoming more fully implemented.
The BOE voted to reduce the 2021-22 operating budget by $644K. The move will help to lower the tax increase for residents, while all items will continue to be funded by the remaining second round of stimulus funds that the school received under the Cares Act. They also approved an energy savings plan for the Middle School that will upgrade the systems at the school, while saving the district money on energy expenses.
In a new school building update, Director of Business and Operations Dr. Richard Sanzo explained that the high school project is fully submitted for state approval, after which the Permanent Building Committee will be able to send out for bids. He noted that a new traffic pattern will not be set for the high/middle school complex until likely October, but assured the board that all parties will do their best to try not to disturb the education that is happening on that campus.
In subcommittee reports, Mr. Greg Flanagan reported on Business Operations Business Resource Management, saying that the budget is on track and that the projected deficit is shrinking. Mr. Ed Sbordone was happy to report that the Safety Committee had many positives to share, including fewer concussions this year.
The board was excited to applaud the Connecticut Associations of Boards of Education (CABE) Leadership Award recipients, including NFHS seniors Abby Jansen and Gia Parr and NFMS 8th grade students Ava Von Steeburg (8 purple) and Isabella Dasilva (8 orange). They also congratulated the Western Connecticut Superintendent’s Award recipients, including NFHS students Grace Fritzsche and Paul Pesco and NFMS’s Bella Olivet and Zachary Peterson.
In board member comments, Ms. Kathy Baker pointed out that a lot of positives ended up coming out of the pandemic–such as critical technology–she asked that the administration create a list of things that are working. Ms. Stephanie Strazza would like to hear more about the rationale behind potentially branching out from the Wilson reading program, an idea that surfaced during the goals presentation. Several board members thanked the high school administration for what they’ve done to make senior events more normal this year including prom, graduation, and the post-grad party. Other positive end-of-year comments included praise for the NFHS virtual spring musical and the recent high school band concert. The next regular New Fairfield Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, June 3, 7:00 p.m.