New Fairfield Town and School Budgets Presented to Board of Finance Amid Threat of State Aid Cuts
March 9, 2017
Peter and the Starcatcher at TheatreWorks New Milford: A Play by Rick Elice, Music by Wayne Barker, Based on the Novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Directed by Alicia Dempster
March 9, 2017

     At their March 2 meeting, Board members expressed frustration with each other and with the Administration. Member Douglas DeRito was dismayed that, after the zip-tying incident was raised at several previous meetings, he found out that the teacher resigned, not from the Administration or another Board member, but from a Danbury News-Times article. He went on to say that when he joined the Board he promised to the community “that he would be completely transparent and open,” but without communication, transparency breaks down. He said the he has “taken it upon myself to have legal council look at state requirements. I want to know what I, as a Board member, am allowed to see, as far as information from the Administration.”

     He went on to say that “We have to do a better job as a community…If the functional underpinnings of any school district is going to be somewhat lacking [in] valid, critical information to the people who are supposed to administer the policies and oversight, we are creating a cancer within our district that will, ultimately, not make us the best that we can be.” He hopes that the Administration “changes their ways on providing timely information.” He asked that the line item referring to the resignation in the Personnel Report be removed until Board members can read the resignation letter and be made aware of the resignation terms and conditions. In a 6-2 vote, the Board approved tabling the item and will discuss it at the next meeting. Board members also questioned whether there was another breakdown in communication regarding an article on the Consolidated parking lot that appeared in the Town Tribune, March 2 edition.

     Member Susan Starr apologized to the Administration for what she sees is a repetitive breakdown in etiquette. She referenced Board bylaw 9320, which includes the language “there will be no personal attacks on Board members and employees.” She noted that they have failed for a year to “ever stick by this policy.” She suggested that the surplus in salary numbers could reflect a faculty deterrent, asking “Who would want to work in this district?”

     Board member Samantha Mannion made a public request to have at least one Board member sit in on all of the contract negotiations. She went on to say that Board members are willing to offer their time and believe it would be valuable for everyone.

     In public comments, parent Patrick Bower said that he is pleased about the fact that the teacher involved in the zip-tying incident is resigning. He also suggested that the Board may want to pursue an investigation into whether policies were properly followed in this matter. Parent Craig David Rosen pushed back against Dr. Alicia Roy’s previous meeting comment that “people want to know much more than they are entitled to” and questioned whether there is a middle ground where parents can receive information that pertains to their children, while understanding that there are legal bounds that need to be adhered to.

     There was discussion regarding the BOE presentation of the proposed budget, scheduled for Saturday, March 4, 10:30 a.m. Dr. Roy noted that the Board of Finance asked for supplementary documentation, including enrollment and salary information. Board member, Douglas DeRito, suggested that Dr. Roy and the administration staff be prepared to explain the surplus salary amounts in the budget, as that’s an area the BOF may target for cuts. Both Dr. Amy Tozzo and Dr. Jay Voss believe that the BOE is much more prepared than they have been in previous years.

     The Curriculum Subcommittee met to review the new ELA curriculum. Though they met to discuss the Middle School in particular, the proposed changes will impact elementary ELA as well. The “workshop approach” would span a number of teaching methods including lecture time, independent work, one-on-one instructional periods, and more. Mr. Joel Pardalis will be presenting the proposed curriculum at an upcoming BOE meeting. Board member Kevin Hearty also noted that they are considering changing the standards for “mastery-based learning” to make the objectives more specific and to clarify the grading parameters.

     The Communications/Community Outreach Subcommittee met to consider the possibility of a Middle School recess period. Member Ed Sbordone noted that a lot of parent emails were submitted regarding the idea. Middle School principal Ms. Christine Baldelli attended the subcommittee meeting and went to the podium to give the Board a summary of the discussions. She noted that it was a give and take between parents and school representatives. Ms. Baldelli explained to the parents what free time opportunities and constraints they have in place at the school now. And after discussing it with them, she walked away from the meeting with a number of ideas on how the school can expand the opportunities.

     Safety Subcommittee member Susan Starr reported that they reviewed the school’s concussion reports and noted that the number of concussions is on par with previous years. She noted that the staff is very vigilant about care for concussions. She also mentioned that the subcommittee reviewed the traffic issue surrounding the High and Middle School entrance from Gillotti Road. She wanted to remind everyone that, due to sight lines, installing a traffic light is not an option. She asked that the community continue to be careful and patient during times of congestion.

     Students from the High School’s Digital Academy, a four-year program for scholars with a passion for science and technology, gave a presentation on their overall program and current plans. The program integrates traditional science and technology curriculum with the creation of unique technological projects. The ultimate goals for the projects include both taking them to ExpoFest, a statewide competition, and ideally bringing their products to market. This year, the group is working on a small robot that will disinfect countertops using ultraviolet light and ultrasound. They are also working on a campaign called Clothesedout to inform their fellow students about ethical clothing companies and increased recycling options. Along with this campaign, they are experimenting with decomposing textiles.

     Dr. Roy thanked all of the bus staff for their care during the extreme wind and multiple downed trees we’ve been experiencing. She also lauded the High School Academic Decathalon students who received many awards at their recent competition. She also encouraged parents to take the Stakeholder Survey for the Meeting House Hill School principal position.

The next Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 16, 7:00 p.m.

By Sarah Opdahl