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Less Foreign Language Instruction and 'Pay to Play'

Supt. of Schools Details His Recommendations on Coping with $2.8M Cut to Board of Education's Proposed $148.5M Budget in 2011-12

Less instruction in foreign languages in elementary schools and middle schools and requiring high school athletes to "pay to play" are among Supt. of Schools David G. Title's recommendations for coping with a $2.8 million cut to the $148.5 million Board of Education budget adopted in January.

"This is obviously a very important and very difficult process to go through," Title said to a subcommittee of the Board of Education Thursday afternoon in the Education Center, 501 Kings Highway East.

Title's recommendations also call for a reduction of 16.4 certified staff and 22.8 non-certified staff, for a combined total of 39.2. But that doesn't mean 39 employees will be fired because the reductions include eliminating additional staff that the district planned to hire and reducing the number of hours existing employees work.

Title and Margaret Mary Fitzgerald, assistant superintendent of Human Resources, couldn't say Thursday afternoon how many employees would have to be fired, partly because the number of retirements is not yet finalized. "I think that there will be some layoffs, but it's too early to put a number on it," Title said.

The school board's class size guidelines would be maintained under Title's recommended cuts, though the number of students per class at McKinley School would rise from 19 to 21 in kindergarten through second grade, and from 21 to 23 in grades 3 through 5. Osborn Hill School also would lose an instructional improvement teacher.

Title said he maintained a new elementary staffing model, which is designed to increase literacy and math comprehension; a new staffing model for gifted students; advanced placement courses; and the "culiminating course in a sequence."

But Title said he's proposing that the Board of Education eliminate some electives, scale back intramural sports by $50,000 to $60,000 per school, eliminate JV basketball at middle schools, eliminate the late bus at the high schools on all four days and eliminate the late bus at the middle schools on Wednesdays. "If you're not running intramurals as much, you don't need the late bus as much," he said.

If residents succeed in restoring $800,000 to the Board of Education's $145.68 million budget in 2011-12, Title said he would eliminate "pay to play" for high school athletes and reinstate what had been cut to the World Language Program in grades 4, 5 and 6. Those cuts include offering Spanish in grade 6 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday instead of every day and reducing instruction in Spanish in grades 4 and 5 from 100 minutes a week to 50 minutes a week. At the high schools, Title is proposing that two advanced levels of Chinese be combined into one class.

But Title said the Board of Education would have to take action on his recommendations well before a referendum on adding $800,000 to the Board of Education's budget - assuming 1,748 valid signatures on petitions asking for a referendum are submitted to the Town Clerk's Office by 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Title said changes to the school district from his recommendations will be noticeable and impact the quality of Fairfield's school system. "There's no found money here," he said, adding that he didn't believe in "phantom cuts," such as reducing the special education budget when that expense won't be reduced in the next fiscal year.

Title said he already cut maintenance and technology requests before the Board of Education received his proposed budget in January and that those areas also sustained cuts in the previous two fiscal years.

School board member Sue Dow said she didn't like to see reductions in World Languages in grades 4 to 6, "pay to play" at the high schools, which Title said would cost $125 to $225 per team with a $500 family cap, and a reduction in extracurricular activities. "Sports and extracurricular activities are so much a part of the high school experience," she said.

Board of Education Vice Chairman Pam Iacono said instruction in World Languages should be restored and "pay to play" should be eliminated if $800,000 is restored to the school board's budget. She said "pay to play" was instituted at her high school 20 years ago and was still in effect. "It's gone up, and it's stayed. Once it's here, it's not going away," she said.

School board member Catherine Albin said she was sickened by having to reduce foreign language instruction. "It's irresponsible for us to be sitting in a room, as part of this town, tearing apart World Languages yet again. We did it in the 1990s and spent a decade bringing it back."

Albin also objected to "pay to play," saying the town of Fairfield didn't have "an educational surtax" and was "supposed to support our public institutions."

Title said he didn't offer school board members a "menu of choices" for achieving $2.8 million in savings because it was difficult enough to arrive at that figure once.

Title said he decided against requiring students to pay a fee to park at the high schools because some students would avoid the fee by parking on residential streets by Fairfield Warde High School, which created problems in the past when that high school was overcrowded. He said the district also would have to hire someone to ensure all cars parked in the lot had paid the fee and that it was too much to implement a parking fee and the "pay to play" fee for sports teams.

Iacono said she already had been through the school board's budget and didn't know of any alternatives to Title's recommendations. "Unfortunately, I don't think there's a lot to say," she said. "It is what it is, and we have to deal with it."

Albin agreed. "I don't see that the list could be much different...There's nothing to do here, but I'll tell you - it's extremely sad."

Albin said the school district wasn't just dealing with the $2.8 million cut imposed by town boards. She said it also was dealing with the effect of cuts in the previous two fiscal years.

"I know all this is very difficult for some parents to hear," Title said. "It's a sad day. It's a sad day for everybody."

"We cannot offer the same educational services with $2.8 million in less money. I don't know how much clearer I could have been in public about this, and here it is."

Albin said some residents about a decade ago had predicted the town wouldn't fully fund two high schools.

The full Board of Education will hold a meeting about Title's recommendations at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Education Center.

TJC May 13, 2011 at 08:48 PM
You are now taking Chucky Cheese's lead and presenting fallacious arguments. Your personal preferences, like travel, have never been a school funded program and are not suddenly being cut. Solutions? I never promised a solution. My solution, as I have stated, is to do everything I can personally do to get the money back in the budget. Failing that, I am not going to roll over and say that its OK to charge kids to play sports because they can easily "text each other" to play in some field some place. Its one thing to say you don't have a solution. Its another to present silly ones.
Just One Teacher May 13, 2011 at 08:49 PM
And to answer your question, I played baseball, basket and soccer at one time or another growing up. Never for the school team, they were little league games run by people in the town. To be honest, I didn't really care for the overly competitive nature of it. People take it way to seriously. I did and still do prefer things like kayaking and ice climbing, and mountain biking.
Just One Teacher May 13, 2011 at 08:55 PM
Actually, you are wrong. There are going to be several trips to foreign countries next year. The families will likely have to pay for their children, but the town pays for the staff to go. So you are just here to bitch at people that say things you don't like? That's productive!
Just One Teacher May 13, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Oh! And the subs to fill in for those teachers while they are away...
Chuck E. Arla May 13, 2011 at 09:00 PM
J.O.T., Re: JTC I feel your pain, brother.
Just One Teacher May 13, 2011 at 09:09 PM
I don't get it? Seems to me like people have options to actually make a difference. They can sign the petition if they want and spread the word about it. They can plead to keep the cuts. They can voice their opinion more at town meetings. They can try to make the best of a bad situation by making suggestions (like I have). I think their hearts mean well, but what good is going to come of calling someone names on a comment thread???
TJC May 13, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Well, with cuts to language programs we probably won't have to worry about the trips in the future either. When I went abroad in HS the teacher/chaperones paid their own ways along with us. Are you sure of your claims?
Just One Teacher May 13, 2011 at 09:44 PM
Not 100%. I volunteered once or twice but obviously the person organizing the trip chose the chaperones he knew the best. It was a few years back, but from what I remember the flight and lodging was paid for. Teachers just had to pay for meals and the rest. Perhaps that does not apply to every trip, though.
WakeUp May 15, 2011 at 04:38 PM
If early retirement options included a focus on health insurance, many more employees might be interested.
WakeUp May 15, 2011 at 04:45 PM
"Fairfield Resident"- I'm a little confused about your comment. Are you saying the quality of Fairfield's educational system should be measured against those of Bridgeport and Stamford rather than districts such as Westport, Wilton, Weston, Trumbull, Darien, New Canaan, and Greenwich? Move a Fairfield home across town lines a few miles east or west and it's market price will likely decline. Why is this so? To a great extent, the quality of the school system is key. And "slashing" school budgets does decrease the quality of the education provided.
Parent and teacher May 15, 2011 at 06:18 PM
Arguing and calling names is not productive. What is productive is signing that petition to hopefully bring back that 800k to our education budget. Also, we need to make sure those republicans who voted for the 800 k cut do NOT get voted back to the rtm this November. That extra cut saved only about $40 per tax payer, but will cost every child in our system a quality education, both in the classroom and on the SCHOOL fields and courts. It will also cost parents, wealthy and not, an extra $125 or more per child per sport, for participation in a much needed sports program. All of today's children deserve the same opportunities that the seniors from WTP and their children have already received. Their close-minded view of their own small tax increase do not encompass that town community feeling we should all be supporting.
Dr. Finlay-Garber May 15, 2011 at 07:10 PM
Sign the petition. Dump the narrow-minded RTM members who voted to decimate school funding. Make it clear -- "We the People" doesn't speak for all the people.
Another Educator May 15, 2011 at 08:32 PM
As a guidance counselor in a neighboring town high school, I can tell you that few students receive athletic scholarships each year. Most scholarships are based on the rigor of academics and performance in those subjects. Very few students pursue a career in foreign languages. Foreign language programs in many elementary schools throughout Ffld. Cty are offered 2-3 days a week only. My youngest is a Sr. year at FLHS and was accepted at 8 excellent colleges with substantial scholarships from each one. She is not on any athletic team, because her sport of choice is not offered at the HS. The colleges to which she applied were most impressed with her ability to balance her volunteer work and academics. The budget cuts are numerous, but they won't "damage our children" or "devastate our schools". The recommendations made by Dr. Title are wise given the options; they are not devastating. I taught in Fairfield in the 70s and 80s; that was devastating. Our students still received an excellent education. Other towns have gone through this, and their real estate has not plummeted as a result. Give the Ffld. teachers some credit. They will make this work. Fairfield children will continue to receive an excellent education. Make it a teachable moment on how to make the best of a situation when faced with adversity. Working in another town has opened my eyes as to how fortunate our children are; even with the budget cuts, our schools remain superior to many around us.
JP May 15, 2011 at 11:41 PM
Central Office Administration was basically spared and its a shame. What hurst most that in this economy staff are losing thier jobs. I understand that 5 Elementary Schools will also lose their tech person. So that means when something is not working correctly at a time when a teacher is depending on it, who will do the fix at that time? no one because no one will be there, therefore the students suffer. Dumb plan if you ask me. Guess this is what Dr. Title did in his old district was not even half the size of FFLD. And what about the Paras that are getting laid off? Thought Title said he would not do that. Whats up with that?
Informed Parent May 16, 2011 at 12:53 AM
If you were at the meeting you would have heard Dr. Title explain that they will move to a help desk format, someone will deploy from a central location to fix tech problems. This is done in the private sector all the time with fine results. I think it was an audit recommendation too. Also Central Office wasn't spared they took a hit, 1.3 FTE, for a $104,018 savings, it's at the top of the Budget Adjustment handout from the meeting. I've been at everything, never heard Dr. Title say Paras wouldn't be laid off. He said there would be a reduction in services across the district, and there is, stop complaining about Title and start complaining about the 22 RTM members who cut the budget the budget so drastically. The question you really have to ask is there enough money in the unemployment fund to cover these layoffs? Can any RTM member answer that? My guess is no.
Michael McGarry May 16, 2011 at 01:40 AM
I think it should be clarified: the CO office position eliminated was, technically, a teacher. Although the person in the position does not work in the classroom, he or she is still a teacher. I don't know what the ramifications are of the position elimination, but I hope this real, breathing, person with a family and responsibilities, comes out okay. We speak so easily of eliminating this or that "position". Well, we teachers and staff see people, not positions being eliminated from our professional lives. People who bring special skills and dedication to their jobs. Their loss is devastating.
Chuck E. Arla May 16, 2011 at 01:42 AM
The RTM "decimated" the budget??? Under what system of mathematics or logic does an $800M reduction equal a 90% cut to the Education budget???
Just One Teacher May 16, 2011 at 01:32 PM
Just wanted to share an idea real quick, and then back to grading. Perhaps those people that value athletics so highly could get together and form a type of scholarship fund to aid needy families in paying the new costs. Perhaps you could get the PTA involved to help set this up. This all in the event that the cuts stick, of course.
something to think about May 16, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Many, if not all, Fairfield PTAs currently provide various types of scholarships/aid to help out "needy" families - they just do it very quietly. The help ranges from buying a book at a book fair to assisting kids to go on class trips to Washington, D.C. However, to maintain confidentiality, the funds are usually funneled through the principal or other building administrator. I don't think that any of the 17 PTA units in Fairfield have it in their budgets to provide the funds necessary to furnish the number of scholarships that will probably be necessary if pay to play is adopted. Because of the confidential nature of the need, any sort of scholarship fund would probably have to be coordinated with school administrations.
TJC May 16, 2011 at 03:26 PM
The PTA's also fund field trips, educational programs, technology purchases and other valuable programs at the schools. I'm not sure how much more they can take on. I think that the pay-to-play will only effect the middle and high school levels, anyway, so we are really just talking about 5 of the 17 PTA's that would get involved. Lets hope those signatures keep coming in...
Just One Teacher May 16, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I wasn't very clear I suppose, but I wasn't suggesting using existing funds for this. I am suggesting that the people in town that feel passionately about keeping athletics available to everyone should organize fundraisers or collections to gather new funds and then ask the PTA to aid them in setting up distribution in way similar to what you mentioned above.
fairfield newcomer May 16, 2011 at 06:34 PM
perhaps if you feel this is the case you will make a monetary contribution and get some of your friends to contribute as well to see to it these kids get to play but the dollar amounts stated do not seem exorbitant and most young people could earn that much money if the truly had a passion to play.
FFLD Teacher May 16, 2011 at 10:14 PM
Just to let everyone know - when someone from Central Office is eliminated, they have the opportunity to go back to the classroom and teach AT THEIR CENTRAL OFFICE SALARY. So when someone gets cut from central office who makes $150,000 a year, they are actually going to stay employed at that salary while in the classroom. The person who is really getting cut is a teacher (who is probably not making more than $50,000 a year). It is in their contracts as administrators that if their position ever get eliminated, they may go back to teaching at their current salary.
Concerned Resident May 16, 2011 at 10:57 PM
To Informed Parent: I take issue with your comment: "If you were at the meeting you would have heard Dr. Title explain that they will move to a help desk format, someone will deploy from a central location to fix tech problems. This is done in the private sector all the time with fine results." Are the schools the private sector? What phone does an elementary teacher use to call helpdesk, and who deals with the 23 second graders waiting to see the live stream Discovery Education video that is not projecting onto the class room white board while she seeks help? The tech department looks like it took one of the biggest hits. 5 elementary techinicams, and4 highs computer lab paraprofessionals. That is 9 staff positions dealing with technology. Why spend the money on advanced technology if you are not going to support it?
H Tuttle May 18, 2011 at 01:14 AM
>>Why would a young family move to a town that does not support a quality education for its children, when other lower Fairfield County towns continue to show a commitment to a first-class education for its citizens? << Why would a young family move to FFLD is the taxes continue to go up as they have when other nearby towns have lower mill rates and comparable educational systems? FFLD educational system isn't unique. And "young families" are likely to be much more cost sensitive.
H Tuttle May 18, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Oh, gee, do them a favor... and "thank" them - they'd probably enjoy not having to deal with the endless rancor and have more time for their own families and endeavors. Feel free to run yourself.
H Tuttle May 18, 2011 at 01:18 AM
>>So only rich kids get to play sports? What about some of us middle class families that don't qualify for aid because both parents work? We'll are be working even harder to pay higher taxes at the federal, state and local levels. And from the comments it sounds like kids can't play sports on their own? Whatever happened to organizing one's own entertainment and sports activities? Or do we have to have everything scheduled, channelled and regimented for our kids?
fully involved May 19, 2011 at 12:15 AM
http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=212584462106008&pending#!/event.php?eid=212584462106008 The Board of Selectman have scheduled a townwide vote on the Referendum to restore $800,000 to the Education Budget. The vote will be Tuesday, June 14, 2011, from 6 AM until 8 PM. All regular polling centers will be open except for the polling center serving District 2. District 2 will vote at Burr Elementary School. Please get the word out to all registered voters of Fairfield.
just sayin' May 20, 2011 at 09:22 PM
More to (un)Informed Parent: Unlike most private sector organizations that have a limited focus for their technology applications -- MS Office and maybe one or two business or industry specific applications. Our elementary schools have dozens of server based software appliations and 3 times as many paid web based appliations that require set up and support. Multiply that times 20 at the high schools. And pitty that poor 2nd grade teacher who just spent 20 minutes preparing her students to watch that live stream Discovery Education video that now won't play because of a technology glitch. Oh right ... she can email the "centrally located help desk" and someone will be "remotely dispatched" within 72 hours. Poof!! Bye bye teachable moment.
Just One Teacher May 23, 2011 at 08:44 PM
Here is the real life situation as it stands now in our high schools. Just at ONE school there are about 1000 computers, not to mention the printers and network switches and so on that must be maintained in order for the school to function. We used to have two techs at each school, which was barely even adequate to quickly fix the bugs and issues that exist in a system this size. One left to work in another state and the district decided to save a couple pennies. Rather than replace the tech, they decided to keep one person at each school full time and take the third and split him between the two schools. Teachers sometimes have to wait several days, never mind hours, for the poor techs to sort through long lists of issues in addition to their duties regarding the setting up of new machines coming in and updating existing machines. They work as hard and fast as they can, but no one can work the miracles asked of them.

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