The head of the Fairfield teachers' union is concerned that the Representative Town Meeting may cut $1.9 million from the Board of Education's proposed $146.5 million budget for the next fiscal year, saying it would have a devastating effect on the school district.
"I've never ever seen anything this detrimental in one calendar year," Anne Pasco, president of the Fairfield Education Association, said Friday morning.
Pasco said the 2011-12 Board of Education budget adopted by the school board at $148.5 million in January already was lean when the Board of Selectmen cut $2 million from it, an action that was later backed by the Board of Finance. She said adding a $1.9 million cut on top of that could eliminate art, music and other programs in the schools and increase class sizes beyond the guidelines of the Board of Education.
Pasco said some classes in the elementary schools are at the upper limit of the guidelines and there is no reserve fund in the Board of Education's proposed budget to hire an additional teacher if another student or two is enrolled in a school and the district needs to create a new section at that grade level to keep the class-size guidelines intact.
"The RTM really needs to rethink what they're going to do," Pasco said.
The RTM's Republican majority broke into focus groups and met behind closed doors to go over the proposed school board and townside budgets, which is allowed under state Freedom of Information laws because the meetings constitute a "caucus" of one political party.
But some of what the RTM Republicans have been talking about leaked to the public through e-mails.
An e-mail from Kate Daniello, co-founder of We the People of Fairfield, a taxpayers' advocacy group, to her supporters, which includes an e-mail from Faith Dillon, an RTM member from District 9, identifies RTM member Carolyn Richmond, R-1, as planning to propose a $1.9 million cut to the Board of Education's proposed budget. RTM members are supposed to identify cuts during a meeting that begins at 8 p.m. Monday in Osborn Hill School, but the cuts wouldn't be voted on until the following RTM session at 8 p.m. May 2 in Osborn Hill School.
Neither Richmond nor RTM Majority Leader James Millington were available Friday to say if a $1.9 million cut would be proposed Monday night. Millington said several days ago that he hadn't heard of a potential $1.9 million cut to the Board of Education's proposed budget.
The school board's proposed $146.5 million budget rises 3.5 percent from its current budget of $141.6 million. The townside of the proposed budget rises 5 percent, from $77.9 million to $81.8 million. The other two parts of the overall proposed town budget are retiree benefits for town employees, which rise from $8.3 million this fiscal year to $10.9 million in 2011-12, and annual debt service, which rises from $23.8 million this fiscal year to $24.9 million in 2011-12.
Daniello on Friday said We the People has eight suggested cuts to the Board of Education's proposed budget but hadn't attached dollar amounts to them. She couldn't say whether they totaled $1.9 million.
Daniello said all eight of We the People's proposed reductions are to the Board of Education side of the proposed $264 million town budget. She said the group hadn't proposed any reductions on the townside of the budget because independent audits of both budgets found only $350,000 in savings on the townside but $5 million on the Board of Education side. The townside of the proposed budget rises 5 percent in the next fiscal year, while the overall $264 million town budget also rises 5 percent from the current overall town budget of $251.5 million.
"We feel there really isn't more to be gotten there," Daniello said of the proposed townside budget, noting that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance had made cuts to it already and transferred the savings into the Internal Service Fund, a reserve account for workers' compensation and medical claims that a bond rating agency had warned was too low.
"The significant savings we're looking for is on the Board of Education side," Daniello said. Daniello, in an e-mail, identified the following suggested cuts to the Board of Education's proposed budget.
- Curriculum leaders (6) each with a salary in excess of $122,000. Teachers in the trenches say they are not needed. The public should know that in addition to the director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment at a salary of $159,000 there are also seven curriculum coordinators and six department liaisons who receive a stipend for curricular responsibilities. The BOE website contains a full explanation of each position's job responsibilities.
- An overabundance of school psychologists (one in each elementary school.) According to ASHA recommendations, Fairfield public schools have too many. This has been stated and outlined in the Prismatic audit report.
- Reduce the number of houses at each high school from three to two (Dr. Title has stated that he is not inclined to eliminate the house system in this year's budget, that he needs more time to study it.) (Editor's note: Dr. Title refers to Supt. of Schools David G. Title.)
- Teacher improvement costs $560,000 (this is not money earmarked for professional development.) It is money paid to exceptional teachers who "mentor" new teachers or teachers in need of additional support. This is not done in the private sector; as a professional, you are responsible for improving yourself. Further, why isn't the principal providing support or advice to the teacher in terms of improvement?
- Move toward an average of 23 students per class vs. 20 or 21, particularly at the middle and high school levels.
- Do not hire principals to run the summer school program. Use the full time salaried principals to do this and use the profit to reduce other school expenditures.
- Eliminate fully the deputy superintendent position which is currently costing the taxpayer $80,000. The BOE intends to replace Jack Boyle, the deputy superintendent who currently works 2 days a week, with a full time assistant superintendent. Fairfield and most school systems do have assistant superintendents, but it is WTP's understanding that, during a difficult past budget season, Jack Boyle agreed to decrease the number of days he works, and a layer of admin was set up in which department heads reported to another level of admin other than Dr. Clark (Editor's note: Ann Clark is a former superintendent of schools in Fairfield.) The full time assistant superintendent position is in the budget we are now deliberating.
- Finally, WTP has asked Dr. Title to repeat the exact Prismatic audit survey that was sent to all the teachers and administrators in the system under Dr. Clark. The response level was poor. WTP feels that the teachers and the administrators know where savings can be achieved without hurting the excellent education our students receive. Dr. Title feels that it is too soon to do another survey.
Daniello said We the People didn't feel a zero budget increase next fiscal year was realistic but the group wanted to reduce the proposed $264 million town budget as much as possible. The current tax rate associated with the $264 million town budget is 22.51 mills, or $22.51 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Residents can determine their projected tax bill in the 2011-12 fiscal year, which starts July 1, by dividing their property assessment by 1,000 and multiplying the resulting figure by 22.51.
Reprinted below are two e-mails. The first is an e-mail that Pasco sent to members of the Fairfield Education Association. The second is an e-mail that Daniello sent to supporters of We the People of Fairfield. Daniello did not dispute sending the e-mail, though said it was no longer current.
The following e-mail is from Pasco to members of the Fairfield Education Association:
"The latest budget news is that the RTM may be proposing an additional $1.9 million cut at the RTM meeting on Monday, April 25. This will be in addition to the $2 million cut that has already been made by the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. Absorbing a $2 million cut creates enormous damage to the Fairfield Public School System. The thought of a $3.9 million cut is unimaginable. The driving force behind this alleged RTM cut is probably We The People."
"To give you an idea of what $2 million translates in teacher job losses, it would be the loss of 23 full time teachers. However, the $2 million deficit will not be absorbed by teachers only. The Superintendent is on record as saying the cuts will be made from the top to the bottom. A $3.9 million reduction minimally translates to a loss of approximately 50 teacher positions. Once again, this deficit would have to be spread out throughout the entire education budget. However, there is no way that this budget has $2 million extra, let alone another $1.9 million in reserve."
"We are facing a catastrophic situation, the likes of which have never been seen in the history of Fairfield should these cuts materialize. In the early 70’s there was a major budget cut, but nothing that approaches the magnitude of these proposed cuts."
"So, this is a crisis for all of us. This is the time when each one of us must answer the call to action. Those of you who reside in town must immediately contact your RTM member by phone and by email. You must sound the alarm to neighbors, friends and other family members and ask that they likewise contact the RTM members."
"To those of you who do not reside in Fairfield, I say you also must rise to the occasion by attending the RTM meeting on 2 nights. On Monday, April 25, we must be there in numbers as a show of force that we will not condone any further cuts to the education budget. $2 million has already been taken, and that is the line in the sand. On that night, as we sit in the audience, we will hear the discussion among the RTM members. If you are a town resident, and feel comfortable speaking, your message should be simple: no more cuts!"
"On Monday night, May 2nd, we must attend this crucial meeting during which the RTM will actually vote on the budget. It is imperative that we be there in great numbers. Our numbers will speak volumes regarding our position."
"In closing, I know this is a lot to ask of each one of you. However, if ever there was a time that you needed to make a small sacrifice for the welfare of, not only your students, but yourselves, this is the time!"
"The call to action has been given. What will you do? The future of many of our colleagues is tied to the decision each one of us makes. I fervently hope that you choose to come and with your presence, be heard loud and clear."
The following is an e-mail from Daniello to supporters of We the People (bold type and capital letters in original):
Dear WTP Supporters,
A few hours ago, I received this email from Faith Dillon, an RTM rep and WTP supporter.
It is important that you read this and my response below it. WTP needs ALL supporters to start emailing everyone on the RTM list.
Email from Faith Dillon
I know that you are aware that the BOE and PTA have again incited the parents to flood our emails. I can tell you from experience that it works and unless WTP can organize a counter, the RTM will fold. I have parents threatening never to vote for me because I damage children. When I write them some facts, they respond that clearly I am an angry woman and will never vote for me. I couldn't care less because after 10 years I have little faith that I am making a difference. I am not sure we can ever fix the economic fix that this town has gotten itself into. The types of parents that will so easily "drink the Koolaid" without doing any research could probably use some education themselves. I know you have trouble getting seniors out for these late night meetings as well as the hard working commuters that have to get up at the crack of dawn. You must have them flood our emails. Even if they write over and over. April 25th is the night for questions and the next Monday for voting.
Ken has fooled the taxpayers who got their assessments lowered into believing that their taxes will follow. It will be too late when they find out that a 5% increase passed will show up on their taxes as a 5% increase. Those who got a 12% decrease will have their taxes remain the same, then add the 5% increase for next year. Anyone who got less than a 12% decrease will be subsidizing those who got more plus a 5% increase for next year. There will be such an outcry and Ken Flatto will have hit the road.
WTP is planning a very targeted strategy:
First: We want to allow time for the RTM to digest the information that comes out of their own focus groups. Carolyn Richmond has already shared with me what she has come up with. Her report has 4 reductions to the BOE budget totaling $ 1.9M. Her report will be presented to the focus group on Wed night and then to the full RTM. Carolyn is a former school teacher, principal and mayor of a town in Texas; she makes a very good argument for each and every reduction.
Second: Once the RTM focus group reports have been made WTP will editorialize support for those reductions in the newspapers and online news organizations.
Third: All of our supporters have been told to save the date, April 25th and plan to attend. If they cannot attend the meeting we want them to email ALL of the RTM reps. Not just a general message of cut the budget, but a specific message with specific details of how much and where to cut the budget asking for a reply IF THEIR REPRESENTATIVE IS NOT PLANNING ON DOING WHAT THEY ASK.
I feel your lack of faith that things will change. I will send an urgent email out to supporters that they should begin their email campaign now and email again once I send them details of our suggested cuts. I believe we are in better shape to fight the fight this year than we ever have in the past. I want to ask you to do what you can to help your fellow reps on the RTM hear the message that we gave to the BOF at their public meeting and that is NO BUDGET INCREASE. WTP supporters will be there to back you up.
Thanks for letting me know. Your years of service on the RTM are hard to argue with. I only hope that this is the year you will be wrong and the RTM reps will hear our side as well as the parents' side.