[Editor's note: The following Letter to the Editor is solely the response made by School Board Chair Philip Dwyer and is not a response from the full Board of Education.]
I would like to respond to Mr. Plotkin’s letter of March 18. First, no change in math curriculum for K-2 or Grades 6 – 10 or textbooks for those grades, has yet taken place. The teaching staff are piloting different resource materials and developing new curriculum, which will be voted on after a complete review of the recommended changes. Second, the Board of Education (BOE) does budget for projected retirements of teachers and no such cushion is in the projected budget. Mr. Plotkin is wrong on both his points in the stated letter.
He has not had the opportunity to attend all BOE meetings at which the math curriculum has been discussed or the BOE budget developed and presented to the Board of Finance. Starting last spring discussion of the math curriculum and resource materials will have appeared on eight separate BOE meetings by the time all votes are taken in May. The public has had the opportunity to speak at each meeting. Any implication that the Board of Education has not been listening to the public’s concerns is, I believe, far from the truth. On all matters, including curriculum, BOE members do not “get behind” one specific group (as advocated by Mr. Plotkin) but rather listen to all sides, do their homework, and cast their vote based on what they believe is best for all students.
He has a right to form an opinion on the best way to teach math. That question has been debated for over 40 years with national experts writing and speaking passionately on both sides of the issue. While debate over the best textbook resource has grabbed most of the local attention, the BOE is responsible to review and approve both the math curriculums and any proposed change in textbooks.
The public should understand that BOE policy allows a superintendent and his or her staff to pilot resources in the process of determining what they will recommend for approval. The BOE approves final change in textbooks -- not the professional review that occurs while management, our district professional educators, investigates various alternatives. Our staff constantly review and update resource materials for many grades and many subject areas. A board of education would get hopelessly mired in management details if we attempted to approve all such study efforts.
Should the BOE approve a pilot that is conducted in all classrooms compared to selected classrooms? That is a reasonable question and one that the BOE Policy Committee will discuss and present any recommendations to the full BOE.
On the issue of budgeting for teacher retirements: Each year the BOE does budget for retirements, based on the average that have occurred in the last five years. Next year's proposed budget includes 16 such projected retirements, i.e. the budget is based on replacing 16 retiring teachers with 16 new teachers, saving an average $35,000 per teacher. At the moment we only know of a few teachers who have announced their retirement. If we don't get the average of 16 that is budgeted, then we will have to make up those projected dollar savings somewhere else. Retirement cushion? It doesn't exist. This budget question has been discussed annually by the BOE, as well as the Board of Finance and the Representative Town Meeting.
There are people who think cushions exist in the BOE budget and thus cuts will not result in loss of services or quality of education. They are wrong. Every year the BOE, in public session at our June meeting, reviews the budget transfers needed to balance out each line. Last year, that represented about $ 750,000 in minor line item adjustments, spread over a $145,000,000 budget. Hardly qualifying as a cushion and certainly not hidden. In fact, last year, , having managed the budget responsibly.
The BOE will continue to advocate for the proposed budget as needed to provide a quality education to the children of Fairfield. We will continue to review all the information available on the update to the math curriculum and recommended resource materials and each member will cast their vote based on the information presented by all sides.
Philip Dwyer, Chairman
Board of Education