Board of Ed angry at proposed cuts

The Courant’s story today, which is amazingly thin for being so late, does include a couple of school board member quotes worth noting:

* Board member Tom Fiorentino called the process “a complete and total breakdown of communication between the board and the council.”

* “What it represents is some severe cuts in our budget,” school board Chairman Jack Darcey said. “It comes a moment that cuts are such that you can’t camouflage – we’re almost there, if we aren’t there [already].”

More later on what I think is going on here.

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26 Comments

Filed under budget, education, Jack Darcey, News, Schools, Tom Fiorentino, town council, West Hartford

26 responses to “Board of Ed angry at proposed cuts

  1. Fred Garvin

    I took WHDAD and others to task for their Courant bashing before, but I must say that in this case I’m in whole-hearted agreement. The story is indeed thin and late.

    And I dare say it’s this lack of attention to issues that really matter to citizens that imperils newspapers.

    While I think it’s still a little early to be manning the lifeboats over these proposed reductions in the proposed budget increase (they’re not cuts folks!), the Courant’s reporting on them was inadequate.

    I might add that the story was a little too heavy with officials too. How about some parents? PTO folks? And it took two reporters to write this rather pedestrian story?

    In the past the West Hartford coverage in the Courant was much more timely and, dare I say it, sophisticated. Whatever happened to that Danielle woman who used to cover the town? She was quite good.

  2. B

    Argh.

    I am so sick of being told to take a breath from our Town Council. I am honestly concerned about the quality of my kid’s education, and I will not calm down until I hear some facts to back up the council’s “don’t worry, be happy” talk.

    And by the way, claiming to be the “reasonable center” is offensive and insulting to the PTA, the Board of Ed, and the majority of this town that put them in office in the first place.

  3. turtle

    Perhaps these “proposed reductions in the proposed budget increase” (cutbacks?) would not seem so ominous if they didn’t appear to set a precedent for budget battles to come, in addition to the profound impact they will have on our schools in the near future.

    While I’m sympathetic to problems throughout the West Hartford public schools, such as overcrowding at Duffy (inexcusable!), we at the South End magnets are alarmed by these initial signs of retreat on what were promised to be enhancements to our programs. Mind you, we are being squeezed by the:

    Feds (No Child Left Behind, a real loser for schools with high numbers of ESOL students);

    State of Connecticut (non-compliance with racial imbalance regulations, which threatens our magnet and unique status);

    West Hartford town council (apparently not too exercised over the particular challenges presented by the low-income, multicultural constituency).

    Further, elementary Quest is on the block town-wide [Group 7]! Let me get this straight–eliminate new ESOL support [Group 2], reading specialists [Group 4] and the gifted students program, and hope that West Hartford somehow transforms into Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average, by the time next year’s budget process rolls around. Got it.

  4. B

    Ok, lets take a look at the total budget. If you go the town website you see that total increase is 3.5%. This includes the Board’s 4.2% increase, so in fact the reported increase would be a little less.

    However, pull out the big decrease in the Assessors’ budget (maybe someone left?), the Capital Financing decreases, and the BOE and total the numbers.

    You are left with a 5% net increase for the combination of all the other departments. Some go up more, some decrease, but the net is 5%.

    Had they given that (reasonable center) increase to the BOE, it would have $861,000 more.

  5. Thanks, B. That’s quite helpful.
    I would imagine the assessor’s budget is down because reval is complete.
    What you’ve found is so revealing: the town budget is really going up faster than the school’s spending plan.
    So much for the “we did our share, now you do yours” that we’re hearing town leaders say to the Board of Ed.

  6. Mike

    Absolutely brutal job by this Council. And what of the “savings” with consolidating the Town Hall and BOE building? And the savings from the new trash hauling deal? Thank God reval is over and the Assessors office can scale back. But the plan to phase in the reval increas over 5 years means we will never, ever see a mil rate under 30 again. So much for empty promises. If the RTC wasn’t so blatantly incompetent and combative, this would be an ideal time for them to take back the Council. But they can’t stand prosperity. The door is open for responsible, open minded, even handed people in town to form a third party. It worked in East Hampton or where the Chatam Party sprung up over a local issue and seized control.

  7. Joe Visconti

    Mike, B and Turtle
    Please by all means put your time where your mouth is and run for office, we need more people who think like you all to Stand Up for West Hartford.

  8. turtle

    responsible, open minded, even handed

    If nominated I will not run; if elected I will not serve.

  9. Joe Visconti

    Toby the Turtle and Max the Hare, met one day at a country fair; I’ll raise you said Maxy the hare with a smile knowing that he could win by a mile.

    Anyway Tobey won the race and you can too!

  10. Rick Liftig

    Here’s a simple way to eliminate $1,000,000 in expenses.

    We have a curriculum specialist in every elementary school… I never quite got the idea of the position – it’s sort of like the party apparatchik on the sub, “Red October”.

    Eliminate this layer and you’ve saved a lot.

    —-

    Oh, anyone for eliminating the astro-turf fields?

  11. Joe Visconti

    Rick
    Your right, but it is up to Education to make the changes.Where are the School Teachers? Why don’t we hear their voice’s in these debates’s?………… Not even Peek a boo?

  12. Rick Liftig

    IMHO, the problem with the education budget rests firmly at the Board level.

    I have a tough time backing a Board of Education that has put a priority on debates about late starting times.

    In recent history, the Board has always accepted the recommendations of the Superintendent’s office and as far as I know, has never sent a budget back to be trimmed. Despite consistent 7% increases in their budget, the Superintendent always gets a bonus. The consistent increases have been reflected in our taxes over the past ten years.

    The WH Board of Education has historically created in-house programs rather than utilizing the resources in the community. For example, the Quest program could easily have been out-sourced to “The Children’s Museum”, Talcott Mountain Science Center, or CCSU. Why should our school system duplicate regional resources?

    Archaic practices such as short Wednesday schedules are rarely questioned.

    Frivolous curriculum such as “Cast-a-spell” and “D0nealean lettering” are purchased, promoted and then discarded several years after their introduction. My son suffered for years unlearning “whole language learning” (which was a system that taught you to get your thoughts on paper and not pay attention to the spelling).

    I’m all for quality education, but not for waste or frivolity. And I’m all for the Board utilizing community resources to enhance the curriculum as opposed to packaged programs.

  13. I might go along with eliminating the curriculum specialists. But I do know that some of them are quite valuable. Others, not.

  14. Rick Liftig

    So how about having one specialist per every two schools?

  15. These are the kinds of decisions, though, that education experts have to make. They know much more than we do about why such positions exist and what the downside of losing them would be.

  16. turtle

    First of all, I think it’s sweet, if indulgent, of the Board to want to accommodate late-starting times. Although I was glad to see the late-start transport cut I don’t hold that one against the Board.

    Like Rich Liftig I wonder what on earth a curriculum specialist does but remain agnostic on the matter until better informed.

    Funny Mr. Liftig mentioned Quest, because I was brooding all day about what a disaster it would be for our school to lose its Quest teacher. I will not elaborate here except to say that she is, in fact, superb, and that her benign influence extends far beyond the Quest program to benefit the school overall. Needless to say, her position is part-time although she works full-time. The entire school would lose an immeasurable asset by transferring Quest to such as The Children’s Museum, however good their educators (graduate students, I believe) may be.

    No thank you to outsourcing to Talcott Mountain, especially in the winter, when the bus not only has to travel the hideous Route 44 but creep up that hill. More importantly, I don’t like the idea of the gifted kids being exiled from their school, although (I think) such bussing already occurs in middle school. Alas.

    Finally, “a system that taught you to get your thoughts on paper and not pay attention to the spelling”. It worked for F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  17. turtle

    Oh, anyone for eliminating the astro-turf fields?

    Of course. Any baseball fan knows turf is Wrong.

  18. The middle schools have Quest in the buildings, too. Knowing many families whose kids are involved, I’d hate to see that change.

  19. Rick Liftig

    Turtle –

    (you really should use a real name)
    My outsourcing idea would not mean transporting kids to the facilities – way too wasteful. The facilities would send their instructors to the schools.

    Because of the part-time nature of the Quest positions, the teachers are usually transitioning in their lives and do not see this as a long-term position. Also, the quality of the various teachers tends to be quite variable.

    By using a community based institution, you can insure longevity and consistency and avoid the costs of employees and the problem with turnover.

    It would also form a greater synergy between the town, the school system and the other child-oriented institutions in town. Costs would be lowered and duplication lessened.

  20. Rick Liftig

    Turte :
    Also, concerning ‘whole language learning’: It’s a great idea until your English papers are constantly losing grade points because of spelling. It can also cramp your performance on a multitude of standardized tests. And I am sure that there are very few employers that would overlook misspellings on a resume.

  21. turtle

    (Why should I use my real name? Then I would have to have better manners, and that would be very inconvenient.)

    In truth, I agree that not every one of our precious little pumpkins is an F. Scott Fitzgerald and that kids should learn to spell. So, conceded.

    On the Quest issue you seem to have purposefully ignored my rhapsody on Smith’s Quest teacher. Perhaps other schools are not as fortunate, but our Quest teacher is committed not only to her students but to the school and its mission. Why would a graduate student from The Children’s Museum or Talcott Mountain ensure any more longevity or quality that an elementary school teacher? Anyway, I’m in favor of creating good education jobs with good benefits, and I think teachers should be well paid (no, I’m not a teacher or a member of the dreaded “Union” shudder>). Although bad teachers should be fired, obviously.

    A strong synergy between the town and The Children’s Museum, at least, already exists. I don’t like waste, either, but although it’s probably a good idea for the schools to take better advantage of other child-oriented institutions, I’m not convinced that exchanging our in-house Quest teacher for a contract instructor would be anything but a loss for our school, and a heartbreaking one at that.

  22. Rick Liftig

    T-

    You points are well made – just offering a potential area of cost-savings. Glad to hear that your kids are having a great educational experience, because it reinforces one of the reasons why my family moved to this town.

    R

  23. turtle

    Thank you!

  24. David Jones

    It’s a great thing that the people of this community are so concerned about education. My children have benefitted greatly from the West Hartford public schools, with one still attending Conard HS. I cringe when I see the lineup of possible program cuts, class size increases, etc.

    But I find it illogical that an increase in school spending of only 4.2% instead of the customary 6.0% will lead to these draconian cuts. The rate of inflation for 2006 was 3.24% and inflation is running under 3% thus far in 2007. A spending increase of 4.2% represents a rate of increase 30% above the rate of inflation. Having said that, I must confess that I am not intimately familiar with the details of the school budget, and there may indeed be legitimate reasons for an increase that is closer to double the rate of inflation.

    I think it’s important for everyone to accept that the 9 members of the town council are honorable people who care about education in our community just as the 7 members of the board of ed are honorable people who care about the senior citizens of West Hartford. While I sometimes disagree with decisions made by both bodies I’m a true believer that their motives are pure and I truly appreciate their dedication and hard work for this wonderful place.

    I understand everyones frustration when members of the council or former Lt. Gov. Sullivan talk of areas of savings on the education side without giving us specifics. But consider this. If there are discussions and negotiations taking place in private, and I have no reason to doubt this, it would be inappropriate to also negotiate through the press. It would be seen by the board of ed as overstepping and an attempt to embarass the board and would thus be counter productive.

    I’m not in a position to know if 4.2% is the appropriate increase in the school budget but I respectfully suggest we not hang the council just yet.

    But by all means, as concerned citizens, continue to make your concerns known to your elected officials.

  25. Sean McCann

    I have to admit I’m underinformed, David. But it looks to me like the council and the board are already negotiating through the press. I don’t doubt in the slightest that they are all public servants of good will, and I’m grateful too for their service. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that they might be cowed by the threat of a referendum.

  26. Rick Liftig

    Sean –

    I think the press is a big part of the problem. On many days the Courant doesn’t even publish one WH article. There is no follow-up to what is printed and the articles are heavily edited.

    There is an amazing amount of news floating around this town and practically none of it is being covered. The Courant and the West Hartford News seem to be lowering the bar to keep up with the 10 second WFSB/WVIT sound bytes.

    This blog goes much further towards filling in the blanks.

    Rick

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