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Letter: Don't Let Possible Cuts to School Budget Impact Learning

The Board of Education is scheduled to adopt the 2013-2014 budget tonight. A special meeting is scheduled for Wednesday evening if a vote is not reached tonight.

At the last Board of Education meeting, the Board instructed Dr. Title to cut $1.5 million from the proposed Education Budget. This has become a hot topic in Fairfield. It is important for the residents to know that the bulk of the increases to the education budget are from healthcare costs and pension expenses and not from the increase in student programs. 

We need to make sure these cuts do not impact the instruction in the classroom for our children, as teachers and programs are the daily source of education for our children. Reductions need to begin in Central Office, not the student programs or services. Year after year, the administration deftly rallies the parents to protest cuts to the proposed education budget, by strategically stating student programs and services will be eliminated. Central Office needs to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of its top heavy staff.   After all, isn’t the Educational Budget supposed to benefit the students, not enrich administrators?

As costs increase year after year in the Education Budget, the Fairfield Administration must be opened minded to creative alternatives to keep and reinstate our student programs and services as opposed to eliminating them as they have done in the past.   As several BOE members stated at the last meeting, the school system is “not about employment, but about the kids.”  Our school district needs to understand that the more we cut these programs, the more it hurts the students’ learning in the classroom.   Central Office is not student facing, but primarily an overhead expense.

As the request to cut the budget is a very difficult one for the BOE members, many have recommended some creative ways to reduce the budget and potentially add revenue. Some BOE members provided specific cuts while others asked the Superintendent to provide the details as to where he would like to see the cuts.

First, Look at Central Office

Since most of the increase comes from employment, some suggested reducing and consolidating clerical staff and business service staff; changing the responsibilities of Curriculum Leaders to Curriculum Coordinators, which would allow them to teach in the classroom and assist at the schools; and cutting positions on the Central Office staff, of which Dr. Title would be given the option as to which Central Office professionals to eliminate.

Second, Look at Board of Education Expenses

Other line items that are not student programs but could be reduced are the CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) membership ($20,000) which not all BOE members utilize, as well as the $3,000 BOE workshop fees.

Now, Look at Student Programs

Other suggestions were focused on student programs, such as reduction of music, chorus and orchestra programs/ class time at the elementary level; removing extended day kindergarten and implementing only full day, as this would reduce busing; increasing class size which would need to be readdressed at the next contract negotiation; reducing world language programs in the high school; and removing high school guidance counselors through consolidating the students to fewer counselors. Another suggestion was to allow students who play a varsity sport to receive PE credit if the coaches were PE teachers. This would be a way to cut back on PE in the high school.

If You Eliminate Programs Then Offer Alternatives … (at No Extra Cost)

There was discussion to eliminate the Gifted Program at the middle school level and to look at reinstating levels in the curriculum, such as reinstating an additional level in math and language arts, while implementing enrichment programs in the Unified Arts Program (possible STEM programs or journalism courses).  Dr. Title was adamantly opposed to reinstating leveling in curriculum as he stated, “Balance is beneficial to everybody.” What does this exactly mean?

Adding Revenue

One BOE member suggested adding “pay to play” and “pay to participate” which would cover all activities, not just sports. One BOE member suggested selling signage on the high school fields to sponsors. Others suggested raising rental fees charged for using the school buildings, as this would reduce the cost of custodial time charged to the district for after school and non-school events.

Although increasing the fees in theory should cover custodial charges, the education side does not receive the fees rental. Ironically, these rental fees go to the Town not the Education side, so it would not offset the Education Budget.

Looking at Less Expensive Alternatives for the Future

A discussion on the cost of tuition for students placed in programs outside the district prompted a request for a cost analysis of a therapeutic day school option. This program of course would require additional staff and building space, but in the long run might reduce the cost of outplacement.

We need to make sure the cuts to the Education Budget do not impact the instruction in the classroom for our children.

Hopefully, Dr. Title will not feel a need to return money, , to the town after cutting our children’s programs and services.

 

Dawn Llewellyn

Dawn Llewellyn January 29, 2013 at 12:21 PM
I agree. Dr.Title needs to reduce and consolidate administrative tasks in our district as opposed to cutting student services and programs. For the past two years, we have reduced student programs, increased class sizes, and provided less to students who need to be ready for the "21st Century". The administration continues to have the ultimate job security and receive salary increases while the private sector has eliminated jobs. Don't cut student services and programs. As stated in this article, it is time to cut overhead. We should pay for performance not for longevity.
Kelly Crisp January 29, 2013 at 01:28 PM
Don't touch the budget or I'll cut services to students smacks a bit like holding students hostage while Central Office gets a free ride. If our Superintendent truly cared about students, he would stop refusing to make cuts in administrators. We have seen enough cuts and, by the way, our students already receive less instructional time in the classroom than the state average because we don't have the money to extend our educational day to meet the state instructional hours average! In this age of sophisticated technology, our VERY HIGHLY PAID administrators can extend their day, write their own emails and file their own paperwork.
Joeseph Biff January 29, 2013 at 01:42 PM
I think Title is actually afraid to cut the amount of administrators.Many of them have been riding the Gravy Train for years and will retire with nice pensions.Time to get real Mr.Title. You're a CEO .Do your job for which you are very well compensated.Cut the fat.Grow a pair!
Jenn B January 29, 2013 at 02:27 PM
I agree. As a parent of young children I fear budget season each year. The education offered to our children is not hte same as the education offered 10 years ago -- there have been deep cuts to the quality and effectiveness of the education offered while maintaining hefty salaries and bonuses for the administration. I don't mind paying someone their due, but I have yet to see Title go out and FIGHT for THE BEST POSSIBLE EDUCATION FOR OUR CHILDREN. He cowtows and threatens and after last years hefty bonus the BOE granted him, while the rest of us are waiting for cost of living increases to wages....there is great harm done to our trust in the BOE and Title's position. The children are supposed to come first. If you want the parent's support (directed to BOE and CO), you will need to trim your own fat first and start fighting for our children's best interests.
Stacey January 29, 2013 at 02:42 PM
Amen, Jenn B!
Perry January 29, 2013 at 05:38 PM
Last year the budget was cut and nobody suffered. The BOE cried wolf as usual. The budget should be no more than it was last year...and every child got an excellent education. As a taxpayer enough is enough.
Perry January 29, 2013 at 05:39 PM
Most sports should be Play to Pay! Our job as taxpayers is to give children a basic education.
Ajack January 29, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Is the 'look at the budget' by Dr. Title with eyes that want to keep the status for his cadre of over priced under worked administrators? Better accountability and answering to the end consumer, kids, by such agencies as Special Education would go a long way in cutting our costs. In every meeting about budget, Dr. Title always refers to Special Education costs as the 'wildcard' in the Ed budget. Why?Is it because the Special Education Department is 'wild' in it's operation and expenditures? Does it mean that Special Education is 'wild' with it's treatment of the kids and the parents who ask for and are denied services? Is it 'wild' because it has the highest rate of legal cases filed against it of ANY SCHOOL DISTRICT in the ENTIRE STATE and has been in this 'mode' for years with little or no control or over site by the Board or by any of the Superintendents, including Dr. Title. Why is this outlandishly expensive part of our education system a 'Wild Card' as stated by Dr. Title? Other towns seem to have a much better rapport with parents and children and seem to avoid the outlandish legal costs associated with how things are done . Time, money, all sorts of costs and not good services? What is the budget for this 'Wild Card' of our educational system?Is it mismanagement at the top? Is there need for a 'cultural' change? Let's look at how it operates and see if the managing of this 'Wild Card' can be done better. Heard it's a combative culture with bad rep. Many say it.
R. Ludlowe January 29, 2013 at 06:19 PM
Perry, what is your source for this claim? I'm a parent... I saw some real problems last year. The current Math situation could be included. What is your basis for saying that everyone received an excellent education? I know my kids' programs were cut. They spent more time on buses. It was far from an 'excellent' year.
Brian January 29, 2013 at 07:57 PM
Uh Perry, you never answered RL's question. I thought Fairfield would give my children more than "a basic education". That's why we moved here. It once had the breadth of curriculum to allow each to prosper in his own way: athletics, science, alternatives and the Arts. Once erosion of a curriculum's breadth begins, it's difficult to stop much less reverse as students head into the middle of the 21st century. "Basics" in education threads usually means bare bone. Bad idea.
OneFairfield January 30, 2013 at 02:21 AM
The problem with special ed in Fairfield is with the people who run it especially at Warde. Nobody knows what they are doing from the principle, to the house master, to the department heads and now even the special ed teachers at Warde have no clue! Total waste of taxpayer dollars.
Ajack January 31, 2013 at 10:41 PM
It starts with the head of the beast of Special Education, me thinks, and a beast it has become.. Special Education is our Solindra, a basic boondoggle, a money pit of a program. No one on the Board of Education dares to challenge the operation and effectiveness of this 'Wild Card' as Dr. Title described Special Education in Fairfield and so eloquently he did at at the We The People Meeting.. let alone it's efficiency and lack of basic positive public approval rating. Just keep going alone without checking the oil in the 'beast', It'll seize up in a few years. Oh well, it's only your kid's future. This is 'big government schools' in a small town and it's killing us slowly and softly. We should be very upset. Who rates how Special Education is doing anyway? Why isn't there a group of parents who can evaluate what is happening with that program, listen to complaints from end consumers, the kids and parents of need. Maybe it's time that an advisory board be set up to listen to some of the people who have had not so nice a time with Special Education in Fairfield. Couldn't hurt. Give it some teeth to make some decisions and implement personnel changes , if needed based on how they are perceived to be serving the public.Maybe a yearly open survey of end users would help. Lots of complaints about it. I believe Westport has something like this now. Why can't the end users, the parents and kids have a say in what is happening with Special Education? What are they hiding?
momof3 February 01, 2013 at 01:01 PM
I think Dr. Title says special ed is the wild card, partly because the state reimburses the town for special ed cost. What percentage of those costs are reimbursed could vary from year to year, and it is in the state's hands. Also, as the needs of students who receive special needs services changes, the services, and thereby the cost changes. Also, new children may be identified as needing special education.
fully involved February 05, 2013 at 08:02 PM
Dr. Title returned $300k to the town last year. It in no way indicates and abdication of his commitment to our students as the author suggests. It is the responsible thing to do. Dr. Title did not make the cuts, The BoE made them. Dr. Title did not recommend any cuts to programing. The BoE has discussed some programing cuts, most notably the elementary school music program (4th grade Orchestra, combing 5th Grade Chorus with 5th Grade music). These programs were looked at because they are "pull outs" students are pulled from math, language arts, science, the core classes. After discussion with elementary school staff the consensus was that the students would be better served with more instructional time in the classroom. Sounds like an educationally based decision to me. The assumption that more cuts need to be made ignores the obvious, the major driver of the increase is the increased healthcare premiums. Dr. Title stated that the current healthcare contract is out to bid and the experience rating in the last few months has been much more favorable. Let's keep our heads and see how the numbers work out. The bids should be in by late this month or early March. Well within the time frame in which we need to make a decision. If the BoE wants to look at structural changes in how the Educational Program is delivered it should be done: with unbiased research, in an orderly manner, without hidden agendas, political tactics and not willy nilly in a budget battle.
Christine Vitale February 05, 2013 at 09:04 PM
Fully Involved: You bring up some excellent points. The one point I will disagree with you on though is the importance of the elementary music program. I do not think cutting the music program is an educationally sound decision. Yes, kids are being pulled out, and that could be an issue for some kids, but I think you are minimizing the benefits music has on a child. Research indicates that music instruction, especially at an early age, has a positive effect on brain development, math, memory and literacy. Check out this site for some quick facts: http://www.vh1savethemusic.com/node/317 Physical Education classes enable children to exercise their bodies. Music classes enables children to exercise their brains. Very happy the BOE did not rush to cut the music program during the budget approval process. I can only hope that other town bodies will be cognizant of what huge cuts would mean to a budget which is increasing, not because our programming is increasing, but because fixed costs like healthcare and pensions are increasing.
fully involved February 06, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Christine Vitale, I agree with the issue presented in the article you present, but remember that these students already get two full hours of music instruction a week as part of the regular curriculum. These programs are in addition to the regular curriculum, I would much rather see that additional 45 min World language class restored at this level.
PJpatch February 06, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Ms. Llewellyn, what qualifies you to determine Central Office is "top heavy"? Are you a business operations analyst? Have you visited Central Office to see it in action? Are you a business efficiency expert? Have you read the Operational Audit that said the opposite, that the Central Office is actuallly SHORT on staff. Now you are a qualified business expert, as well as a math expert, as well as an education expert, what aren't you an expert in? "BOE is not about employment" you can't be serious, you think administration isn't cutting positions because they are concerned about employment? Check your facts staffing is DOWN. NOT RETURN MONEY? You can't be serious. The TOWN negotiated better electrical rates which saved the school district money, and you scold the superintendent for RETURNING SURPLUS MONEY TO THE TAXPAYERS, surplus money that rightfully belongs to the people who foot the bill? You holler from the hills about transparency, but you want the superintendent to KEEP money that isn't his to keep? Your letters are contradictory and perplexing.
Christine Vitale February 06, 2013 at 01:31 AM
Fully Involved: Good point. I was thinking more about eliminating the suggested cut of eliminating 4th grade orchestra than eliminating one of the music sections at the 5th grade level. I agree, I would swap a section of 5th grade music for restoration of a world music class.
Christine Vitale February 06, 2013 at 03:10 AM
Just read my comment above--forgive the overuse of the word "eliminating". Wish there was a way to edit comments.
Ajack February 06, 2013 at 01:13 PM
When the vast majority of our 'Educational' spending ,the spending in our district ,is driven by wages and benefits, how can one ignore that fact? When a disproportionate part of that spending on those salaries and benefits for our educators are for administrative personnel rather than for teachers, how can anyone say that we should not look at those expenses? You can not ignore the fat on the bone here. I dare anyone to look at those costs and do a comparison. The increase in the insurance costs, last year, as stated by the expert that the school board brought in to evaluate the rise, sounded like it may not have been a trend rather a blip in the system. Knee jerk reaction.....we need more money from now on...I can just see the insurance executives saying...gee this is great, they have more money available that we can get from them.Any future increases may also be indirectly or directly attributed to insurance companies not wanting to be caught short due to the new Obama care that was supposed to decrease costs. Anyone who was in favor of that legislation, the way it was written, had better get their heads examined.
Ajack February 06, 2013 at 01:23 PM
What happens if the powers that be in Special Education make a decision about a child's needs based on budget rather than doing what is correct for the child? It seems to me that this situation could be a possible scenario. Are their any parents with children of needs in Fairfield who have recently needed assistance from Fairfield Special Education and have been denied, recently, and if this was the case, did they suspect that the decision to do so could have been part of the ' cutting the budget to the bone' as has been promoted by Dr. Title ? What we don't want from the town or especially Special Education , is a situation where the children's needs are being sacrificed to adhere to a strict budget cut demanded by Dr. Title. Our children are the most vulnerable and the most susceptible potentially to requests to 'cut the budget to the bone'..
fully involved February 06, 2013 at 02:31 PM
Ajack Your remarks are not factual. Any Educational budget is driven by wages and benefits, its a service that is being provided not widgets. There is not a disproportionate amount of wages and benefits at the adminstrative level, in fact, a comparison was done by in the Operational Audit which determined that there were too few Adminstrators. Your statements about the the increased insurance cost demonstrates your lack of understanding of the facts. The Town IS the insurance carrier, The towm moved to a self-insured plan more than four years ago for the BoE and certain town employees. Under this plan employees and the town pay into the insurance plan. A portion of those payments go to a plan adminstrator, the remaining go into a medical trust fund. The town is liable for the first $500,000 of claims by individual in the plan year, to be paid out of the trust fund. Last year their were several employees that had castastrophic illnesses that depleted the trust fund below acceptable levels. The liquidity of the trust fund is determined by accuarial tables that project the expected experience going forward based on previous experience and the demogrphics of the insured pool. The last several months have shown a decrease in the experience of large claims indicating that the numbers going forward should be lower. Insurance executives and Obama care have nothing to do with the issue before us. To suggest otherwise is simply a political ploy.
fully involved February 06, 2013 at 02:32 PM
Ajack Your assertions on Special Education again show a lack of understanding of the facts. A child or family cannot be denied services based on financial concerns, its the law, and there are numerous means of redress if some suspects that is the case. What the District does not do is ask the families to submit for reimbursement from their insurance carrier for covered services as other towns do and is permitted under the law on a voluntary basis.... food for thought.
Ajack February 07, 2013 at 02:46 AM
fully involved, your assertions show a lack of understanding of how the system 'actually' works in this town. You are speaking of the hypothetical, ideal situation that you are told is the norm is this fine community. What actually happens to many people is often quite different. The numerous forms of redress, that you mention, although actual, are in fact, extremely hard and costly to access by the 'average family'. The deck is often stacked against these people who have tried to access them to address the denial of services. One only has to look at the numerous law suits and Federal investigations filed against Fairfield Special Education by parents for failure to address the needs of their children and the numerous negative outcomes from these law suits to see that the town, by using it's 'legal' muscle, paid for with our tax payer money can be and often is the victor in such situations whether right or wrong. There is nefarious support by the State of the towns, as evidenced by the records.The outcome in often in the favor of the town and rarely for the parents. It's just fact. The average citizen is unaware of many of these proceedings that have occurred and of the duress suffered by these families when they have tried to simply access services. Go check under F.O.I. and view the court records for our town in these matters, before you quote chapter and verse. See how the system 'really' works. Ask the public and you'd be surprised! Law that is bent is still broken.
Ajack February 07, 2013 at 03:01 AM
The influence of Obama Care on our medical system has yet to be felt. Wait about two years when the full force of this invasion of personal liberty is fully enacted and tell me that it hasn't effected you. Wait. Yes insurance executives have everything to do with health care costs as do doctors and our employers and now the government in every aspect of our care. Yes , as I stated and as was reported, the costs were extremely high for that one year. What I heard was the town reacting to it by possibly having to increase payments to cover the insurance costs for future years like this. The point of an insurance actuary is to calculate and make predictions based on past data for future considerations. The insurance spokesperson, told the town, more or less, that our costs could possibly have to go up based on that one year blip.
Ajack February 07, 2013 at 09:39 AM
Arizona has a very different view on helping it's students. It is far different than what was experienced while in Connecticut. The powers that be seem to sense when a child is in need, much better. We have varying types of state governments to offer the people different possible scenarios to obtain a quality education and thank God for that. People can move. Connecticut is losing people. Connecticut has the highest taxes in the country and a shrinking pool of future job prospects. If it were not for New York City and the people who work there who bring money back into this state, it would be in very deep trouble. Over 47% of Connecticut's budget comes from Fairfield County. It's citizenry have developed a 'New York' taste on a 'Connecticut' budget and has acquired that taste at the expense of the local, long time citizens, the families who made this state such a wonderful place to live at one time. Fairfield does and has produced many good students. It is my fear that as the budget cycle turns for the worse for the tax payers, as the local towns and the state government administration fail to recognize the on coming train wreck of an economy that we are facing, that the children, the most innocent of it's citizenry, will be the 'victim's here when draconian budget cutting time comes around ....and it will sooner or later. Our current spending levels is the problem.

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