A devastating blow to West Hartford schools

Today’s story in The Hartford Courant quotes David Sklarz, the school superintendent, as saying last night that he faces “the most difficult reductions that I’ve had to present” in searching for ways to pare $1.8 million from the next education budget.

Now I could understand why this year posed problems if we were in the middle of a recession, if people were losing their homes and jobs, if everyone was taking a hit. But that’s not the case at all. The stock market’s soaring. Jobs are plentiful (though I recognize good jobs are still hard to come by). The economy is treating us kindly, for now.

So why are we in a budget-cutting frenzy?

Simple: because the town council is more scared of the West Hartford Taxpayers Assocation than it is of the voters.

As a result, it whacked $1.8 million from the school budget, threatening to wipe out Quest, erase extra help for our most troubled schools and even slice away full-day kindergarten at a handful of elementary schools. A disaster looms if these cuts go through.

Yet Theresa McGrath, president of the tax group, told the school board last night to find even more cuts. Why don’t we just put closed signs on the doors of our schools and tell our best and brightest kids to move, quickly, to Simsbury or Farmington? This is all nuts.

The story in the Courant today is typically awful. It mentions that a handful of parents spoke to the board, pleading for some programs. None of them are quoted by name. Only oneschool board members is quoted, so we really don’t know what they’re thinking in any detail either, which is a shame.

I’m afraid that the Courant’s lackluster interest in the crisis facing our town is going to make it so most parents are barely aware of what’s happening, if they know at all. Information is scant — whichever side you come down on — and there’s no place to get the facts that we need.

The one school board member who is mentioned in the story, Terry Schmitt, said the list of proposd cuts is a “classic example of how unfortunately wrong” McGrath is about the severity of what’s at stake.

This is a moment of truth for West Hartford. We need to defend our schools against a spurious attack by council members and self-styled taxpayer advocates that will gut good programs and set back education.

It’s not going to get easier for us in the next few years. If we start scaling back now, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

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40 Comments

Filed under Board of Education, budget, David Sklarz, education, Hartford Courant, News, referendum, Schools, Terry Schmitt, Theresa McGrath, town council, West Hartford, West Hartford economy, West Hartford Taxpayers Association

40 responses to “A devastating blow to West Hartford schools

  1. turtle

    Hear, hear!

    Interesting that Mr. Cativo reports the following:

    “We are all in this together,” board member Tom Fiorentino said. “We are in it as a community.”

    Indeed! But Mr. Cativo failed to mention that Mr. Fiorentino further remarked, to his credit, and I paraphrase, that the North End schools do not seem to be very affected by the cuts. How about it, Mr. Cativo? Doesn’t cut the mustard for newsworthiness? Even though the South End schools, for instance, happen to be very affected by the cuts? Or was that your editor? At least we got the unfailingly decent Terry Schmitt’s protest that the idea that these cuts wouldn’t negatively affect students is “wrong”.

    Also, from the article you might think that Teresa McGrath, president of the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, had addressed the Board during public remarks. Huh? It seems Mr. Cativo must have spoken with Ms. McGrath after the meeting, when I guess there weren’t any parents milling around as well, maybe waiting to schmooze with the beat reporter about, oh, budget cuts, for example?

  2. Thank you, turtle, for clarifying what Fiorento was talking about. It seemed so utterly commonplace as to be meaningless. But what you added sheds a lot of light on what’s going on.
    Do we need to map out where the town councilors and school board members live? It might be interesting.

  3. turtle

    To be honest, I’m not sure if Mr. Fiorentino’s observation about the relative impact of the cuts directly followed the quote that made it into the Courant. But it was definitely in there somewhere. I will have to watch the rewind.

  4. You ever watched one of those MLB videos of a baseball game that cuts out all the dull stuff? In the quickie version, games take like 10 minutes to watch (well, maybe a bit more). I don’t mind the dull stuff in baseball, of course, but I wouldn’t mind the fast-forward version of town meetings. If they had that, I might watch them. As it is, they’re just too damn boring.
    The only feeling they arouse in me is sympathy for the politicians who subject themselves to such things.

  5. turtle

    I refuse to watch those videos. It’s just Wrong to watch baseball that way.

    But I know what you mean about the Town Hall meetings. I’m grateful to our public servants for subjecting themselves to what is often an excruciating ordeal. Especially this round, when the Board of Ed is having to deal with a crisis that we may lay squarely, or at least hexagonally, at the feet of the Town Council.

  6. Another Dad

    Having attended last nights meeting I would suggest that ‘devastating’ is a bit strong. I am not on the Taxpayers Association side, oppose the referendum, and do not feel that the School Budget is ‘full of fat’. However, I am not sympathetic with the board, and feel they find themselves in this position because of their own choices.

    This year’s budget process followed a tired pattern:
    – submit a budget well above what they would expect to get, and include items with the intention of removing them later. (i.e. late start buses)
    – remove those items, find ‘surprise’ revenue by reforecasting budget items (usually Salaries) and combining those two to reach the budget they intended to end up at in the first place.

    The budget they submitted to the Council reflected no heavy lifting.

    If the council is to blame here, it is for failing to layout the targets from start. (The entire budget process for both Town and Schools needs to be retooled.)

    There are difficult cuts in the latest round but few of them are crippling. There still seems to be revenue additions and reforecasts in play that will affect the net cuts. I personally would take the 300K from increasing North End school class sizes in lieu of cuts at Charter Oak and Smith (I have no kids at either).

    The bigger issue is in future years. Without additional state revenue, the Board will have a difficult time keeping increases under 5% for the foreseeable future.

  7. Judy Aron

    A $1.8 million cut is hardly a devastating blow.. they are still getting a 4.3% increase in spending. If the Board chooses to make cuts in the classroom then it is their problem. Quite frankly I’d like to see Summer School and Continuing Ed made self-sustaining, and don’t understand why it isn’t.

    The administration has a line item called “Special Allocation” anyone know what that money represents? It’s going up by a heck of a lot of money..

    Anyone want to know why we are spending tons of money on open school choice taking kids in from other towns which we have to subsidize? We seem to be sufficiently “diverse” all on our own without open choice students – so why do we continue to take them at a loss to taxpayers?

    I don’t think the sky is falling – the schools waste a lot of money – have done so for a long time and it’s time to say no.

    But I’m just an evil homeschooler who wants to dismantle public education.. I don’t pay taxes to the tune of 6% increases every year like everyone else and I don’t see seniors and young families struggling to keep their homes. I don’t have kids who can’t afford to move here and raise their families here.

    There are no cuts – there are cuts in increases.

  8. EJ

    At the meeting last night only one board member brought up renegotiating contracts with the unions. All the others let it slide with no further comment.

    The question was raised on the number of vice principals in the high schools. The answer was accepted as a given that they plan on 1 for 500 students. No considertion or discussion on could they do with one for 750 or more.

    Will they look into combining payroll with the town? What will that save?

    These don’t affect the classrooms

  9. David Jones

    I have difficulty understanding how an increase in education spending of 4.2%, 30% higher than the rate of inflation, can actually devastate our school system, although this feeling of devastation is understandable when perusing the list of proposed program cuts. I join my fellow citizens in opposing many of these cuts.

    But for me, something just doesn’t make sense. I acknowledge a lack of familiarity with the intimate details of the school budget, but the logic of these numbers still escapes me.

    There is also the issue of credibility. In a year when we face re-val, it is my recollection that the original proposal called for an increase in the school budget of between 7.5% and 8%.

    Yet under these circumstances we still had two board members who were unwilling to vote to remove $240,000 from the budget that was earmarked to bus 60 students to school a bit later than the regularly scheduled bus. That’s $4000 per student. The taxpayers already provide transportation to these students, a reasonable thing to do, but is it really reasonable to expect the taxpayers to spend $4000 per student for a late sleepers bus. In my opinion the answer is no. If there are board members with that little regard for my wallet it causes me to ask the question, what else is in that budget that’s less obvious to me.

    In last year’s budget there was an extra $1.3 million in an account called the systemwide compensation fund. One might think that a reasonable budget estimate was made and unexpected circumstances intervened to create this surplus. But I was told by insiders prior to the approval of last year’s budget that this fund was substantially over budgeted. So where’s the padding in this year’s budget. I don’t know. I don’t even know if it exists. But if they’ve done it before it would be a reasonable assumption that they’re doing it again. Once again we have a credibility problem.

    Don’t forget, the board and council negotiate the budget every year. After a year when the council was told the school budget couldn’t sustain additional cuts without harming education, while in fact there was substantial padding, is it any wonder the council doubts what it’s hearing in regard to this year’s budget. We have a credibility problem.

    Let me make it clear that I’m pro West Hartford public schools. My children have benefitted greatly with one still at Conard. I’m willing to spend whatever it takes to keep our schools strong. And I appreciate the concern expressed by all the parents and loyal citizens of our town. Those concerns are warranted given the list of possible cuts.

    But I’m still struggling to understand how a spending increase substantially above the rate of inflation is causing all this devastation.

  10. Rick Liftig

    Dave –

    I think you hit it square on the head.

  11. Lori

    Why is the budget higher than inflation? Because there are more students and both energy and health care costs went up much more than the normal cost of living increase.
    For the schools to stay where they were takes more than 4.2 percent. To improve, which they must, takes even more.
    And you all can say there are other places to cut that won’t mean losing Quest teachers, slashing kindergarten and other horrors. But that’s still what they plan to do.
    I’m livid about what’s happening and so are many other parents.

  12. Joe Visconti

    Horrors? No that’s in Dafur, these are financial inevitabilities in a time when we don’t see schoolteachers or administrators standing up with the public to demand complete ECS funding for West Hartford from the State of CT.
    We are owed over 3o million dollars from the State of CT for our shrare of ECS, that’s a crime not a horror.

  13. Joe Visconti

    share

  14. Joe Visconti

    Darfur- fingers, all together now

  15. turtle

    Yet under these circumstances we still had two board members who were unwilling to vote to remove $240,000 from the budget that was earmarked to bus 60 students to school a bit later than the regularly scheduled bus.

    I had also thought this expenditure absurd, but apparently there is something to the theory that teenagers perform better later in the morning (sorry, no cite). I think the administration and the board of ed should be commended for trying to respond to the latest research and optimize the conditions for learning in our schools. Yes, it’s luxurious, but we shouldn’t we have the highest aspirations for our kids? (And doesn’t the town of West Hartford provide transportation for children who attend private schools, albeit mandated by the state?) OK, so we can’t afford it this year, but I’m glad Superintendent Sklarz put it out there.

    Yet under these circumstances we still had two board members who were unwilling to vote to remove $240,000 from the budget that was earmarked to bus 60 students to school a bit later than the regularly scheduled bus.

    Both these board members voted nay because they wanted to guarantee the late-start option to all interested students regardless of their personal access, or lack of access, to transportation. It was a matter of justice. Again I commend them for their vote although I was relieved to see the quarter mil cut.

    Yes, the budget process involves a bit of kabuki. But I think the board was surprised, or at least they affect to have been surprised, by the additional $1.8 million in cuts presented to them so abruptly, fait accompli. I’m of the opinion that the board did not see this coming, and I don’t like the way it was handled. But I have no inside baseball and, incredibly, could be wrong.

    I think the “devastation” kicks in when thinking about this year’s budget battle as a harbinger of things to come. As a Smith parent of course I think it’s reasonable to wait a year for some of the support that was promised to the school. But when you think of it in the context of future budget battles, of shifting demographics and the State’s displeasure with West Hartford, and the critical necessity of ensuring that the future citizens of Wets Hartford are well-educated and thoughtful people with a stake in the republic, then, unless this year is an anomaly, “devastating” doesn’t seem quite so hyperbolic. I’ve tried to avoid being grandiose (ha), but since a guy at the last board meeting argued for Quest in terms of national security, the door has been opened.

    Also, I very much appreciate the support from out-of-our-district West Hartford parents like whdad and the other wh dad. It seems clear they understand that not only do we have a duty to educate every child but that the future well-being of West Hartford depends on it.

  16. turtle

    Um, not “Wets Hartford”. I blame Joe for the typo.

  17. Joe Visconti

    AFSCME #4, 1142 will get it’s collective bargaining green light by Signor Francis on May 22,07 for the upcomming year. Check out the town’s agenda.

    Would anyone like to accompany me to the Bargaining meetings? Think the doors will be open or the Citizens will be allowed to see just what the big secret is about??? Not.

    The Teachers Union is the same. The day’s are coming to a close when Public sector Safe Haven Jobs can negotiate our pocketbooks and hold a private closing on our future while we hold a lame duck referendum on their last Midnight Bombing Raid of our coffers.

  18. Peter G.

    “The day’s are coming to a close when Public sector Safe Haven Jobs can negotiate our pocketbooks and hold a private closing on our future while we hold a lame duck referendum on their last Midnight Bombing Raid of our coffers.”

    Joe, could you provide a translation for those of us who only speak English?

  19. Joe Visconti

    Mr. Pseudonym
    Figure it out yourself, it’s as easy to read and makes as much sense as this Years Town Budget.

  20. Peter G.

    LOL well I wouldn’t mind having a translator for that either. Oh, and a pseudonym is a fictitious name so on that point you are mistaken.

  21. Osemasterofdoom

    Even more important than posting your name, I think, is posting the names of the medications a certain poster forgot to take this morning.

    On the subject of Town Meetings, I agree that they are long and contain a lot of extraneous matter. However, the problem is in deciding who would actually do the editing. There’s enough hue and cry about the “openness” of Town Government without opening up that hornet’s nest.

  22. Peter G.

    Osemasterofdoom — now THAT’s a pseudonym!

  23. Joe Visconti

    Wow,Peter G is a real name? You must be to tired to spell it out or too afraid of taking responsibility for your trite.

    Mr Master of Doom, talk about ficticious names, you must be a Binding Arbitration Attorney for the Teachers Union.

  24. Osemasterofdoom

    You’re calling me an attorney?!? I’ve never been so insulted in my life!

    As for my fictitious name, there’s nothing more sinister behind it than a determination not to be bullied by people who wish to have their own personal definition what’s “right” foisted upon the rest of us. Sounds just like the type of behavior you like to rail against, Joe.

  25. Joe Visconti

    Master of Doom

    A determination not to be bullied? You mean you think if people knew your true identity they would bully you?
    With a handle that includes the words Master of Doom, I sense you have been bullied in life before and are trying to compensate for the abuse by assuming a Masked identity. That’s cool, whatever gets you through the night man. Sorry if I intimidate you, no offense, it’s just politics.

  26. interested

    why does it cost 250k to bus 60 kids. Seems excessive. You could hire a taxi for less.

  27. EJ

    Joe, the perfect reason for the anonymity was given by Ben Wenograd at the BOE meeting when he saw fit to take a comment from on of the bloggers out of context and smear her as a racist to the whole town (the meeting was broadcast on the town tv)

  28. Rick Liftig

    And so, Ben Wenograd made an attack and now he owns those words. Right or wrong, at least he wasn’t anonymous about it.

    What’s wrong with owning your words? If you feel that you have to hide behind a false name in order to make a comment, then the conviction behind your comment must be called into question.

    If you are afraid of repercussions from your statements, perhaps they are better off not said.

    It is very easy to post using your real name. For the most part, it’s a matter of turning the rhetoric down a notch. Electronic communication makes it awfully easy to “shoot from the hip”.

    Maybe everyone commenting on this blog should wait five minutes before hitting the ‘submit comment’ button.

  29. Pseudonym Required,Elvis Conti,Humbu, Concerned Shopper,X.Jones, Joe Visconti, The Turtle King

    This is what can happen if bloggers don’t own their words. As Turtle and Whdad realized by my purposeful miscapitalization giveaways I am all of the above characters including Joe Visconti. This was a test for those who do not frequent the blog and could have been thinking there are so many in support of certain posted idea’s when it is the same person posting.
    So on to the issue, The Education Cartel said no to Union givebacks in West Hartford from today’s Hartford Fishwrap (cause you should know), Below is what one person thought of Unions.

    NYC Teachers Union So Bad It Inspires Robert Wilson To Give $22.5 Million To Catholic Schools

    As reported in the May 24th New York Daily News:
    Wilson, 80, suggested he would have considered supporting public education, but wanted to sink his money into what he considers a higher-quality school system.

    The former Wall Street investor… blamed the teachers union for crippling public schools with what he termed selfish and greedy demands.

  30. Pseudonym Required,Elvis Conti,Humbu, Concerned Shopper,X.Jones, Joe Visconti, The Turtle King

    Sorry-Humbug, not Humbu, although that’s kinda cool

  31. EJ

    Yeah Rich, Ben make his attack, owns his words, makes a pseudo apology on the blog (not to the public); and the attacked individual has no recourse and has a name tarnished in public. Real neat.

  32. I did think that Ben probably shouldn’t assume that anyone here is actually the person they claim to be. There’s nothing to stop anybody from signing their posts “Jodi Rell” or “Tom Cruise” so don’t bet the house on the person whose name appears is, in fact, the person we all have in mind when we see that name.
    I do delete posts that seems misleading, of course, and if a real person ever complained that someone was posting under his or her name, I would instantly delete the stuff.
    But do keep firmly in your head that it’s a mistake to get too worked up about individuals. It’s police arguments and debate that make sense on the ‘net.
    By the way, if anyone sees something they find too offensive, let me know. I might agree and will dump it from the site. I would rather err on the side of keeping discussions within reason than let things get too harsh. That kills blogs, bulletin boards and the like in no time.

  33. Rick Liftig

    EJ –

    When someone feels the need to call someone else a name, I believe that it is a reflection of their own insecurity.

    The issue is, do you believe what was said? do you think that everyone will believe a statement because of one person’s words?

    I hope that in this day and age, we are a little more discriminating. This blog has seen more than its share of nasty words aimed at Joe Verrengia – most of them anonymous. So where is his recourse?

  34. Joe Visconti

    Rick

    Way off base bud, I will call Joe Verrengia a name and if you think I am insecure that’s your Opinion.

    In the political world he is a “Traitor to his Party”, if he was ever a part of the Republican Party. If Joe Verrengia thinks the people that helped him get elected were no more than volunteers then with his arrogance he should go to the dems.
    It is not for Joe to determine what is best for the Town as he has stated but to determine what is best for the voters that he represents, if Joe thinks they are the the same the ask him who the hell represented 9,100 voters against the Blue Back Machine? 43% of Voters at Blue Back 1 Referendum had no representation from our Town Council, yet 57% ,13,500 had the whole damn council, was anyone listening to the people? This Best for the Town Mentality is how we play nice in the sandbox (BC) but it aint how you represent Residents and Taxpayers.

    Now if Joe Verrengia has got any complaints about my statements, come on out now Joe and say something, if not see you on the campaign trail.

  35. turtle

    It is not for Joe to determine what is best for the Town as he has stated but to determine what is best for the voters that he represents…

    Do not pass GO; do not collect $200.

  36. Rick Liftig

    Joe –

    One point I am trying to make here is that you used your real name in making a statement. At least we know what you stand for you aren’t ashamed to own the words.

  37. Joe V doesn’t care about anything we think. A traitor is a traitor. And yes I will tell him face to face when I see him. As I’ve said before, he made campaign commitments and then bolted on them. Republicans who worked for him, voted for him and believed in him – have been left holding the bag. For you lefties, I’m sure its just a barrel of fun.

    On the other topic… I tire of seeing the whining about the use of “handles” on this blog. If you don’t like the use of handles, then really its just too bad. Get a life. All it tells us is that you more interested in “who” is posting instead of the content of what’s being posted.

    And I’m going to guess if its good enough for the owner/moderator of this blog to use a handle, than its good enough for anyone who wants to post here. So why question it. I feel sorry for any of you that might take issue with handles… you might have a heart attack if you navigate to any other chatroom or board on the WWW. You outnumbered 10 zillion to one.

    RIP Mark Twain…. errrr.. Samuel Clemens.

  38. EJ

    Yesterday the teachers union told the town we’re on our own.
    So much for their sharing the pain and wanting to help the children. I guess helping the children only matters when they want cash flowing to the union.

    As the situation worsens over the next couple of years don’t be surpeised to see downsizing at the BOE.

  39. Joe Visconti

    Not if the Bureaucratic State Education Department has it’s way, backed by the Education Cartel’s Agenda.
    Look for older teachers seeking a buyout and more younger graduate Teachers coming in. That’s a good thing except for the lifetime achievement awards we keep giving ex employees in town in the form of Legacy funding fo Insurance and other things.

    Now will some schill for the Teachers Union please post some propoganda about how little the teachers get compared to other Teachers in other Galaxies, and if your afraid to use your real name how about using “Union Jackal”?

    PS- One thing for sure, the next closed door Union Contract Entree followed with a with Binding Arbitration dessert will have citizens attending, even if we have to get the Attorney General involved. Bind This Local @%*)x!K!

  40. Joe Visconti

    with a with? I like that!

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