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New Fairfield’s Board of Education met one day after a tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the events of the preceding day were weighing heavily on their minds.

Chair Peggy Katkocin began the meeting with a moment of silence for the Parkland community. Both Mr. Douglas DeRito and Mr. Dominic Cipollone expressed relief at the recent decision to include the Safety Advocate positions in the proposed budget. The positions had been in question when debating budget costs and the potential return on investment. Mr. Cipollone went on to urge parents, students, and the community to vigilantly monitor social media activity.

The upcoming 2018-19 proposed budget presentation to the Board of Finance is scheduled for March 3 and Ms. Katkocin asked BOE members for input on how best to proceed. She offered to present the budget herself, but encouraged board members to let her know if they would like to present sections of the budget. She stressed the importance of board members standing behind the budget and pointed to evidence that suggests that significant numbers of citizens are likely willing to back the increase with their votes.

The issue of congestion and accidents at the entrance to the Middle and High School complex on Gillotti Road has been introduced to the board a number of times during subcommittees and at public comment in regular meetings. Following subcommittee discussions, the board agreed to discuss the notion of the traffic light with the Board of Selectman.

Ms. Kathy Baker reported on a school start time meeting that she attended with members of the CT Association of Boards of Education (CABE). At the CABE meeting, both Newtown and Wilton presented on their experiences with later school starts. Wilton has years of experience to draw from, while Newtown adopted the later school start time in a very quick process last year.

Ms. Baker noted that “the meeting was packed” with many school districts who are considering similar schedule changes. Among the information she gleaned, was the message that there’s no one way to make this change, and that for each school the switch is customized. The next subcommittee meeting to discuss school start times is scheduled for next week and the issue will be on the agenda for a regular BOE meeting in the near future.

In a nuts and bolts manner, the board had a second reading of 16 potential policies to approve. They will have discussions and vote on the policies, ranging from truancy to cell phone use, at their March 1 meeting. The board also accepted grants to help fund the elementary Special Friends and Cowles mentor programs.

In board member comments, Mr. DeRito asked that the district’s Next Gen assessment ranking be added to the agenda at a future meeting. He is concerned about the ranking. Also, Ms. Kimberly LaTourette, gave a plug for the upcoming Middle School fundraiser Run Ranger Run, which helps veterans transition back to society after returning from war.

In her superintendent’s report, Dr. Roy talked about another great PACK takeover day at the Middle School, plus congratulated Meeting House Hill School’s community on raising a large amount of money in the Hoops for Hearts fundraiser. She also mentioned that she is looking at various operational efficiencies that may help the district next year.

In public comments, parent Pete Pomeroy thanked the board for their volunteerism, but largely spoke about his belief in the importance of changing the secondary schools to later start times. He pointed to research on adolescent sleep patterns and the positive benefits of adequate sleep, plus recommendations from major medical boards as chief among the reasons for the change.

Ms. Laura Consiglio took to the podium to talk about the board’s discussion at the previous meeting regarding the possibility of adding a dedicated human resources position. She was concerned that the BOE dismissed the position without fully discussing opportunities and advantages. Mr. DeRito acknowledged her concerns by agreeing that too little time in general was spent discussing the finer points of the budget, including this position, saying “This board had two discussions about a $43M budget.” He expressed interest in having a more in-depth discussion about the position in the future.

The next regular New Fairfield Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 3/1, 7:00pm.

By Sarah Opdahl