RTM Cuts $800K From Ed Budget

Town Fiscal Officer Says Savings Amounts to About $32 a Year for Average Taxpayer

Nearly 300 residents turned out Monday night to hear how much the Representative Town Meeting would cut from the Board of Education's proposed $146.5 million budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

After a long debate over taxes and the impact of more cuts on the school system, the RTM finally settled on an $800,000 cut - after forgoing a $1.2 million cut and a $600,000 cut.

Town Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller said the $800,000 cut, which reduced the school board's budget to $145.68 million, amounted to a savings of about $32 a year for the average taxpayer.

RTM member Kathryn Braun, R-8, who voted in favor of the $800,000 cut, said the school board's budget would still be $4.1 million, or 2.9 percent, higher than the board's current $141.6 million budget. "It's one half of 1 percent of the budget approved by the Board of Finance," Braun said of the $800,000 cut, adding that $4.1 million was "a significant increase."

Carolyn Richmond, R-1, said she believed the Board of Education could find savings by reducing the number of paraprofessionals and school psychologists; reducing music lessons; requiring curriculum leaders to spend half their time in the classroom, which she said would eliminate the need for three teachers; eliminating instructional improvement teachers; and charging students to park at the high schools.

"What I heard from my taxpayer constituents is we simply cannot afford to keep these large increases going," Richmond said.

However, Supt. of Schools David G. Title said the suggestion to reduce paraprofessionals, which originated in an operational audit of the Board of Education's budget by Prismatic Services, Inc., didn't take into account the financial impact of hiring teachers to take the place of paraprofessionals, which Prismatic had recommended. The $551,040 savings in cutting 16 paraprofessionals drops to a savings of $7,040 when the cost of hiring eight teachers to replace the paraprofessionals is included, according to a response to the audit that Title prepared on March 8.

Title added that if the district reduces the number of paraprofessionals, psychologists and music teachers, "you are reducing services to kids and families."

Title said curriculum leaders provide an important service by updating curriculums that teachers don't have time to do and instructional improvement teachers in the elementary schools coordinate services for children who are struggling.

Title said the Board of Education didn't just have to find $800,000 in savings if the RTM approved that cut. He said the school board had to find $2 million that was previously cut by the Board of Selectmen, a decision backed by the Board of Finance. Title added that he had cut spending for technology and maintenance in the 2011-12 fiscal year before he presented his recommended Board of Education budget to the school board in January.

Title said he understood the RTM's desire to cut the proposed education budget to help lower taxes, but added, "Please understand if you vote for a reduction, you're voting to reduce the educational services in the town."

"You're looking at 80 percent of the cut coming out of personnel. It cannot come out of attrition," Title said. "We'd be looking at position reductions of the mid to upper 30s - certfied and non-certified positions would be affected."

Title's response was enough to convince Patti Dyer, D-6, who said, "I really think our children will suffer if we cut this budget any further this evening."

But Liz Hoffmann, R-8, said education and services were two different things. She said the country was in a recession, people were lucky to have jobs and people were losing their homes. "Services are different than education. I just wanted to point that out," she said.

However, Kevin L. Hoffkins, D-7, said some of the positions mentioned by Richmond and Title seemed to affect the classroom and shouldn't be classified as only "services."  He said the American School Health Association's recommendation of one psychologist for every 1,000 students, which would indicate that the school district had too many psychologists, was misleading because ASHA concentrates more on school nurses. He said the National Association of School Psychologists recommends one psychologist per 500 to 750 students. "We're right in that range. It's one to every 523 students," he said of the ratio in Fairfield.

Hoffkins added that paraprofessionals were "extremely important" and weren't highly paid.

Michael Mears, R-10, said Title "got stuck" having to fund contracts that the RTM had approved and that he wouldn't support the $800,000 cut.

Audience members seemed divided on the $800,000 cut, though a majority rose to their feet when Elaine Davis, of Farmington Avenue, asked people who didn't support the $800,000 cut to stand. "You can see your constituency," Davis said to the RTM. "Remember it's an election year."

But Robert Forcellina, co-founder of We the People of Fairfield, an advocacy group for taxpayers, said it wasn't the right time to be "adding money and giving people raises," and Joseph Witko of Sky Top Drive said he supported efforts to keep Fairfield affordable for everyone.

Palma Senator of Pilgrim Lane said Fairfield's senior population was dwindling because they could no longer afford "the ever increasing taxes on their fixed and decreasing incomes."

A document that indicated explosive growth in the number of school administrators over the past 10 years, compared to the growth in numbers of teachers and students, was disputed by Board of Education member Sue Brand who said the increases were shown in percentages and that teachers and students, who greatly outnumber administrators, would naturally have lower increases on a percentage basis.

School board Chairman John Mitola said Prismatic Services' audit had actually recommended that the district add two administrators. "It did not say we have too many...The simple fact is, we have the proper number of administrators in our district," he said.

But Braun said some of the work done by curriculum leaders, whom she said were each paid $122,000 a year, instead could be done by teachers, and she said the district had a deputy superintendent of schools who was paid $80,000 a year for two days of work a week. "I just don't see how you can have any employee of the town who works two days a week at $80,000," she said.

Joseph Palmer, R-4, said something had to be done to stem annual increases of 5 percent a year in Board of Education budgets due to "fixed costs," which he said are "out of control."

"We need the Board of Education and the town to come into our negotiations for union contracts with seriousness and the realization they need deep concessions," Palmer said.

Chad Stewart, R-2, said the only place to save money was in contract negotiations. "I'm going to encourage the Board of Education to take a hard line," he said, adding that he would look to increase class sizes as a way to reduce costs.

Selectman James Walsh said $3.1 million of the increase in the Board of Education's budget in 2011-12 was due to contractual salary increases, while $1.5 million was due to increased health insurance costs. "If you don't want the increases, don't approve the contracts," Walsh said to the RTM. "I'm proud of the educational system in this town and I support it. I do not want to go backward. There comes a limit to how much I'm willing to do."

First Selectman Ken Flatto said oil prices and health care costs couldn't be controlled by town officials and that children in classrooms with 25 to 30 kids didn't have the same level of service and support as kids in classrooms with 21 or 23 kids. Flatto said he had cut the Board of Education's adopted budget of $148.5 million budget by $1.6 million (the Board of Selectmen later cut another $400,000) and that the $1.6 million cut was "stretching it."

Board of Finance member Kevin Kiley said the finance board had examined the Board of Education's proposed $146.5 million budget (as approved by the Board of Selectmen) over a dozen meetings and that it had been cut to the bone. "We're at a point where, if we do cut further from this budget, we dramatically begin to decrease services we offer to children in our schools," he said.

But Richmond said the tax increase in 2011-12 for some residents would be 40 percent because the value of their homes went up in the recent townwide revaluation. "This is real money to a lot of our taxpayers," she said. "They cannot afford higher taxes."

Senator said Fairfield's senior citizens are hurting just as much as some RTM members believe students will be hurt by an $800,000 cut. "We are throwing our seniors, dare I say, under the school bus, and it's not right," she said.

After approving the $800,000 cut to the Board of Education's proposed budget, the RTM began its review of the townside operating budget by cutting $2,100 from Administrative Services, $12,130 from the Registrar of Voters and $1,000 from the Town Planning and Zoning Department before Dyer suggested the RTM call it a night and resume at 8 p.m. Tuesday in McKinley School.

RTM members agreed and should wrap up voting on the overall proposed town budget on Tuesday night. The Board of Finance would then set the tax rate for 2011-12 during a meeting that begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Education Center, 501 Kings Highway East.

Nutster May 03, 2011 at 04:03 PM
wow that is great news. with the 800k we saved we can build two more softball fields!!!
Peter Tallman May 03, 2011 at 04:13 PM
Spot on Mr. Sheppard - cinder block schools are the way to go. Time to get rid the top-heavy administration. Not all, but some. Wasted money.
gonzo guy May 03, 2011 at 04:29 PM
Has anyone seen that commercial where the doctor is on one end of the phone and the guy on the other is holding a steak knife while the doctor is telling him how to give himself an appendectomy? Or Why do we need windows in schools anyway? Children of the moles... I say the kids just show up at school everyday and teach themselves.. That's the way we did back in.. the stone age. When school was .. learn or die.
fairfield newcomer May 03, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Neither the Selectmen, the Board of Finance or the RTM can tell the Board of Education where to make decisions as to cuts. The aforementioned have made suggestions as have outside groups so why not assign the responsibility for any classroom cuts where it belongs and that is with Dr. Title and the Board of Education, he and they decide what they consider most important and that seems to be the jobs of administration rather than the teachers and para professionals.
gonzo guy May 03, 2011 at 05:42 PM
The complexity of this decision is not without partners or shall I say those complicit in the chain of events leading to this end game. Things you can buy for 32 bucks. ... a nite out at the movies .. steak dinner.. bottle of scotch.. Unlike paying the mortgage .. health insurance.. car insurance Teachers are the mortgage, health and car insurance of the kids future. Not steak dinners or bottles of scotch. With all the money and financial planner type men and women in the room this was no brainer. 32 bucks a household is a cheap mortgage , free health insurance, and you couldn't get a better deal on your car insurance with Gieco. Remind me to never to seek any of these guys out for my financial needs. They'll just blame losing my money on me.
Soccer Dad May 03, 2011 at 05:42 PM
Are people just dense or do they just hear what they want to hear? The superintendent made it very clear that 80% of the budget is STAFF, so 80% of the cuts are coming from STAFF. Stop pretending you don't want teachers cut, because when you are asking for larger class sizes, like Miss Texas Richmond is, that automatically means LESS TEACHERS. And to Mr. Tallman, yeah, I see the glass wall, very cool, but guess what the Board of Education had nothing to do with that wall--the TOWN builds the buildings, with a committee made up of TOWN taxpayers, overseen by the Town Facilities Commission and the First Selectman so start yelling at the TFC for letting taj mahals like glass wall gyms and architectural wonders like Burr get built. Then the TOWN hands the buildlings over to the BOE and expects them to maintain these energy sucking monstrosities, and then complains when utility bills go up on the BOE side. Jim Gallagher's screaming about maintenance yet he's on the TFC and authorized $136,000 in overtime expenses for the Penfield Pavillion project. That's two teachers. Where are our priorities?Golly gee, now I get to use the bathroom at Penfield on the 4th of July,YIPPEE. Hope that expense was worth it to all the Seniors who are trying to stay in this town.
Wally May 03, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Soccer (Wind Bag) Dad, I guess we can count on seeing your name on a ballot next November? You sound like a bafoon and an "in it for yourself" type of person. Get in there and start making some decisions for the entire town instead of just your kids. You do that work of pouring through that budget book and then criticize those that volunteer their time for no compensation. You people make me sick.
Tax Payer May 03, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Miss Vitale I will vote yes and you pay my increase in taxes,,,,, Thanks.
gonzo guy May 03, 2011 at 06:00 PM
If you get some guy to build your house for free and they mess it up.. Is it your fault or his fault?
something to think about May 03, 2011 at 06:27 PM
Mr. Sheppard, Let's make some assumptions based upon your figures. Suppose your house was worth $200,000 ten years ago. If it's value increased 1.6 times that means it's worth $320,000 today or a (granted unrealized) profit of $120,000. Let's also assume your taxes were $1,500 ten years ago. If they went up 2.6 times, that means they are $3,900 today. So even if you paid $3,900 for each of those 10 years (which you didn't), that means you paid $39,000 in taxes (before taking your IRS deductions) during a time when the value of your home went up $120,000. Taking away $39,000 from $120,000 you have a 40.5% increase in your home value. Oh, and the DJIA INCREASED 29.65% from May 3, 2001 to May 3, 2011. So the stock market wasn't flat, and your 40% increase on your home looks like a pretty good investment.
momof3 May 03, 2011 at 09:00 PM
Tax Payer: Are you an RTM member? If you are, do you have another RTM member or two who will vote yes as well? If so, let's talk!
IPAYTAXESTOO May 03, 2011 at 11:14 PM
How many of those who voted actually have kids in public school -- that's what you get for voting in all these Republicans. And Schwartz, what a shame he couldn't stand tall. Check out Joe Palmer's web site -- super conservative crank all over his links....loves Palin. Great to have people like that deciding what happens to our schools.
steve sheppard May 03, 2011 at 11:56 PM
To "Something to think about" From my calculations the S&P 500 is up 7.5% from 5/01 until today so....the point I was trying to make is that in the last ten years our property taxes have escalated at a very high rate. Just paying more with out demanding some sort of change or taking a real hard look is all I am asking for. It was mentioned above how we have a guy working two days a week and making $80,000 a year....that should raise questions. It was also mentioned that the BOE has nothing to do with school buildings and gets stuck with TFC's building projects, if so another problem that needs to be looked at.
fairfield May 04, 2011 at 12:31 AM
how has the mill rate changed over the years, might be an honest way to assess the increase in taxes, strips out the nominal change
mark May 04, 2011 at 01:45 AM
it always seems easy to point a finger at those who teach are children police are town and put out are fires,and until now i've been privately guilty of some the same pointing. It is no longer time to be silent during are economic down turn. My guess is every Family has had to make ajustments in one way or another. Maybe it has been a change in your career or an approach in the way you operate your business. I favor the present budget that was just pass without prejudice.Now we need to look at what causes my finger pointing.The pensions from the above are over compensated and need to be ajusted immediately. I'm fine with existing salaries. I'm the Grandson of a one time fire chief of more than forty years who ushered in the first paid men I am a 5th generation Fairfielder.I've also have operated a small business in Fairfield for nearly forty years. Middle class americans need to wake up and stop this theft by the oil, Insurance,and the banks.My father used to tell my 5 brothers let mark sleep. well the bear is awake more than ever now its time to take on thieves who's with me. Peter Tallman hit me with a deep pass.
ShaqDaddy May 04, 2011 at 02:15 AM
I am confused by your remarks. Maybe it is your atrocious grammar.
Nancy Meyers May 04, 2011 at 04:25 PM
The type of buildings constructed is a problem. I have learned a lot in the past few weeks getting involved. And it is true the BOE gets "stuck" with them. If you look on the plaque at McKinley School where the RTM meeting was held, the TFC Chairman's name is on it, Alfred Kelly. Yet this is the same group (TFC) that reviewed all the BOE maintenance/capital requests for this years budget. If that group put up a glass wall architecture, and is spending 100K plus on overtime at Penfield, why are they making recommendations about boilers and roofs? Is anyone else concerned about this? Our government needs a serious overhaul.
steve sheppard May 04, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Nancy is right on about the buildings....BOE should have the final say regarding buildings that TFC wants the BOE to maintain and run. I would rather see geo-thermal/wind turbines/solar buildings that the kids could help with and learn how they work instead of these glass walled monsters we have built. Fairfield leaders pride themselfs with Fairfield trying to be a green town. I have no idea who Alfred Kelly is but I would think he should be in the hot seat with what we have done.
Nancy Meyers May 04, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Mr. Kelly and Mr. Gallagher are NOT on the hot seat at all, instead, the Board of Selectman handed off review of the building capital projects to them. Seems like a conflict of interest and an opportunity for TFC members to cover their rears. Time for new blood on the TFC. Good news it looks like we're getting it on the Board of Selectman.
steve sheppard May 04, 2011 at 06:00 PM
Nancy, are TFC members appointed or elected. I'm guessing appointed and if so appointed by who......
Nancy Meyers May 04, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Appointed by the Board of Selectman and confirmed by the RTM. We need change all the way around.
Just One Teacher May 04, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Robert Forcellina, co-founder of We the People of Fairfield... "it wasn't the right time to be "adding money and giving people raises" Are you for real?!? What do you propose, sir? An illegal violation of contracts that are already written???
Nancy Meyers May 04, 2011 at 06:43 PM
No they want layoffs to send the unions a message. It is so obvious. It was pretty much stated on the floor of the RTM. They hate unions. They hate people that have jobs because they don't. They hate small class sizes because they were in class with 70 kids. Anger misdirected is a dangerous thing. Get involved people!!!!!!
Just One Teacher May 04, 2011 at 06:48 PM
FYI, those giant glass walls are called curtain walls and are an absolute nightmare when it comes to energy costs. Energy is a big issue in this town. Numerous teachers, myself included, are forced to open windows sometimes to regulate room temperature. There are days in the middle of the winter when parts of the buildings receive too much heat while other parts are freezing. Also, in the summer some rooms are 60 degrees while a few rooms down the hall they might be 100. My brother works in HVAC and he came to pick me up a few times (my car had broken down and my enormous paycheck simply was not enough to fix it or replace it for about a year and half!) and it took him all of about 30seconds to notice how terribly the HVAC system is set up. Part of the problem comes from retrofitting and expanding existing buildings, but a lot of it has to do with ridiculous bidding rules. The people in charge seemed to only be concerned with picking the cheapest price rather than looking at the detailed plans and choosing which company is going to do it right. So thanks to whoever was in charge of building oversight, we now have tons of money literally flying out the widows year round.
Just One Teacher May 04, 2011 at 06:52 PM
One more thing... Did I hear correctly the other day? There was a fairly recent addition added to a middle school of something like 5 or 6 rooms and you people paid 17 million dollars for it?!!!!! Is that true???
Gerard Speno May 05, 2011 at 03:08 AM
On Fair TV. FairTV Channel 79 at 7PM RTM 5/3/2011 Available Today 5/4/2011 Budget VOD http://fairtv.pegcentral.com Coming up RTM 5/2/2011 Available Thursday 5/5/2011 BOS 5/4/2011 Available Friday : Discussion Interim First Selectman 5/6/2011 BOF 5/4/2011 Available Saturday: Finalize Mill Rate 5'/7/2011
G Hoffman May 05, 2011 at 05:33 AM
I'll be making a campaign contribution to all of their opponents in November.
G Hoffman May 05, 2011 at 05:01 PM
For the record, the "fancy" glass wall is an interior wall between the gym and the central hallway and has no impact on the building's energy efficiency.
Greg Convertito May 06, 2011 at 11:25 PM
I think we need to look at the fact that the reason there is a 4.9% increase in the budget is because the RTM accepted the teachers' three year contracts last year as having a 0% increase last year, and much higher increases the two consecutive years. They got exactly what they bargained for, and they knew what they were getting into when they voted on the contracts. Currently, they are saying that the Board of Ed budget is just too much higher than it was last year, when most of that increase is from fixed costs increasing--namely, employee contracts.
Just One Teacher May 09, 2011 at 11:40 AM
I don't know where you get your information. The contracts are two year contract not three... Much higher than what? That is a comparison statement without a comparison.


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