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Fairfield School Board Passes FY2013 Budget Unanimously [UPDATED]

The budget passed without any changes, though there was an attempt to fund sixth grade World Language programs with the proposed funds for additional clerical positions in the elementary schools.

[Editor's Note: This story was originally posted on Jan. 11. The publication date has been changed for layout purposes. Continue checking this page regularly for updates and discussions on the school budget.]

Update, 5:45 a.m., Jan. 25

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to pass Superintendent David Title’s $149.46 million budget for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY2013).

“This is not just the superintendent’s budget anymore,” Title said. “It’s now our [the board’s] budget.”

What has now been adopted as the Fairfield school board’s budget faced little challenge by the board, expect for a move to increase funding for the sixth grade World Language program.

The Amendment to Fund Sixth Grade World Language Programs

Board member Sue Brand made the amendment to deduct $123,420 from the elementary schools’ clerical support budget and put $94,227 in the sixth grade World Language budget (Brand said she used last year’s figures to determine that value). In Brand’s amendment, the balance leftover could be used “as the superintendent sees fit” for clerical support in the elementary schools.

Board member Perry Liu supported the amendment and said he wanted to get things that were cut last year from the budget back in.

Ryegate Road resident Suzanne Miska said she would rather see the money go toward World Languages, or that the extra clerical help go to the high school libraries.

Other board members and residents did not favor the amendment. Board member John Convertito said he was hesitant to support the move due to the proposed decrease in paraprofessionals and that the elementary schools needed the extra clerical help.

“My fear is without the paraprofessional support, there’s a workload that that will not and cannot be addressed,” he said. Convertito added that the effect of cutting World Languages is still setting in and he would be willing to wait for the end of the school year to measure that impact.

Meredith McCormack, PTA budget representative for Sherman School, said that often -- more than once a week -- a student will be brought back to school after their afternoon bus loop because a parent wasn’t home or at the bus stop, and the schools need the extra coverage in the afternoon to handle that situation.

Students can be distraught when a parent is at the bus stop waiting for them, McCormack said. “We’re dealing with a population of students that’s just learning their home phone numbers.”

McCormack added that aside from the afternoon bussing situations, there are plenty of daily tasks that need to get done and can pile up without the coverage.

The amendment failed, 5-4. The budgets for those items -- World Language, elementary school clerical help -- remained as they were originally proposed by Title and the Central Office.

Concerns About the Budget Process

An underlying concern voiced by some board members and residents was that development of the budget was not as collaborative as it could have been.

Miska said she was disappointed that the budget seemed to favor two groups special education and gifted students and that the public was not involved in the budget’s creation.

“I thought this was a collaboration” between the board, the superintendent, the parents, the teachers, and the taxpayers, she said.

Brand agreed. “We need to start this earlier. We’re not involved in the development at all -- and we need to include the public.” She added that the content of the budget often comes as a surprise to the board.

Liu said he was disappointed that the board’s leadership did not factor in meeting dates for members to present ideas for the budget before the document is drawn up and proposed by the superintendent.

Capital Improvement Projects

The $2 million in Capital Improvement Projects also passed through the board unanimously, with no objections.

The projects include:

 

Update, 5:45 a.m., Jan. 24

The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Superintendent David Title’s 2012-13 budget tonight. The vote will take place in the second-floor conference room at 501 Kings Highway East; the meeting begins at 7:30 p.m.

The following are additional key areas the board discussed at its special budget meetings last week.

Overtime

You can find this line item on page 58 of the budget handbook (pg. 66 on the PDF), item 64 (Business Services), line 52010 (evening/subs/overtime): 

The proposed budget for overtime for Fiscal Year 2013 (FY2013) carries a $240,000 increase over last year’s budgeted $350,000.

Title explained that the district is on track to spend $625,000 this year in overtime fees, so he proposed the board “take our medicine” and budget appropriately for FY2013 (the total proposed budget for overtime next year is $590,000).

The driving force behind the expenditure for this line item is overtime, according to Title. Overtime for storms and for use of schools after the school day has ended rack up costs -- the district doesn’t charge for custodial fees, Title said.

“We want to have the town use our facilities; they’re town-owned buildings, but there’s a cost to this,” Title said.

People who use the schools that incur custodial overtime are usually non-billable, Title said. For example, the RTM meets at Osborn Hill School on Monday nights, the Board of Finance uses the Board of Education’s room at 501 Kings Highway East for meetings, and school and town organizations use schools on weekend for events.

“Our practices have been to not bill our own organizations,” Title said.

Board member John Convertito challenged that notion, citing Connecticut General Statute Chapter 170, Section 10-222a, which states that should groups pay a fee for custodial overtime or to rent a space, that money could be used as revenue for the school board.

The school board should charge for use of school facilities past 9 p.m. and on the weekends, Convertito said, and count those fees as revenue for the district.

“My concern is that we are incurring an overtime expense that is not an education expense; we can be reimbursed for at least a portion,” he added.

Board member Sue Brand said she would also like to make sure the Superintendent confirm whether or not such fees should go toward the school board’s budget, based on the statute.

Elementary School Office Staffing

The proposed budget calls for an increase in clerical staff for the elementary schools. Currently, there’s a secretary in the office until 4 p.m. (all the elementary schools, except for Holland Hill, dismiss at 3:30 p.m.; Holland Hill lets out at 2:45 p.m.)

Elementary school principals and staff propose hiring a second part-time clerk to cover the office until 4:30 p.m. (there is a part-time clerk in the morning assisting the secretary). The extra staffing will “accommodate an hour of situations,” McKinley Elementary School principal Dr. Ginger Vail said.

Vail explained that there are several issues the extra coverage could help resolve. “[The issues] have a lot to do with the age of students,” she said. In addition to more clerical support for the school secretary, a part-time clerk would ensure someone is in the office should a parent be late to pick up their child or in the event a bus brings back a student because the parent was not at the bus stop, Vail said.

 “It’s an issue of customer service and being able to service the needs of students and parents,” Vail said.

She told the board that the school is getting along with volunteers staying past their contracted hours, or even doing work that’s not part of their job description -- teachers who don’t want to leave an anxious student; a principal canceling a meeting; a social worker taking home clerical work over the weekends, Vail said.

Convertito suggested that rather than having two part-time clerks, the schools should propose hiring a full-time clerk to assist the secretary and provide coverage from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“This isn’t Cumberland Farms. We don’t hire people part time,” Convertito said. “If you need people to work 9:30 to 4:30, make it a position.”

He added that he was not unsympathetic to the need for extra help, but wanted to see consistency and continuity in the system that full-time positions would provide.

Title pointed out that they did not wish to remodel a human resources position, and that creating full-time positions would mean bringing in bargaining units and establishing benefits.

“That’s why it’s a clerk, not a secretary,” he said.

Capital Improvement Projects

Title recommended six site-specific projects and one system-wide plan (removal and replacement of underground tanks) to be included as Capital Improvement Projects. The total estimated cost of the projects is $2 million.

Details of each project can be found in the Capital Improvement Projects booklet attached in this article’s photo gallery.

Update, 5:50 a.m., Jan. 18

The Board of Education met Tuesday to discuss the superintendent’s proposed $149.46 million budget for fiscal year 2013 (FY2013).  Superintendent Dr. David Title addressed why programs cut from last year’s budget weren’t included in this proposal.

“To lob everything back in, this budget would carry an increase of 4.6 percent,” Title said. “And we would be in trouble.”

High-Priority Items

Title told board members that he and the school district’s Central Office chose to include high-priority projects and programs. Anything “new” added to the budget had to compete for its place in the plan.

Those priorities include:

  • The modified special education staffing model in the elementary schools
  • Extension of the math staffing model into the middle and high schools
  • Staffing for increased high school enrollment
  • Expansion of the English Language Learners (ELL) program

Board member Perry Liu asked Title why the world languages program, which was cut drastically last year, was not increased in this budget.

Title said that the schools and students are still adjusting to the cut in world language programs; the impact only began to set in when school started a few months ago in September. He’d like to see the impact before factoring an increase into the budget -- that decision could be taken up for the 2013-14 budget.

“The reinstatement of world languages did not rise to the high priority that other programs did,” Title said. “We don’t know the impact of the cut yet, and how it affects a student’s ability to learn a world language.”

Special Education Staffing

Adjusting the special education staffing in elementary schools was, as mentioned, a primary concern in building the FY2013 budget.

What’s proposed in the budget is a “whole new model,” according to Andrea Leonardi, director of special education and pupil services for Fairfield public schools.

The new model calls for an additional 9.2 fulltime, certified special education teachers at the elementary level and the reduction of 13.60 paraprofessional positions, according to the budget.

“Adding almost 11 teachers across the elementary schools and a decrease of paraprofessionals as an offset, we believe it will provide the support needed at the elementary level,” Leonardi said. She added that the study and process it took to come to the decision was “complex” and took months.

The decrease in paraprofessionals is not solely caused by the new staffing model, which is based on the belief that struggling students need more full-time, fully trained special education teachers, but also that a large fifth-grade class of special education students will be moving onto middle school, Leonardi said.

Reducing the number of paraprofessionals at the elementary level will contribute to students learning to become more independent at earlier in their schooling, Leonardi said.

“We are very committed to developing independent learning,” she said.

Board member Jennifer Maxon Kennelly concluded: “this is the type of program to put in place because we want it, not just that it’s the only thing we can afford to have.”

Original Story, Jan. 11

Superintendent of Schools Dr. David G. Title proposed a $149.46 million budget -- an approximately $3.78 million, or 2.6 percent, increase from the current budget -- for 2012-13 at the Board of Education’s Tuesday night meeting.

The requested increase is “substantially less” than last year’s proposed 4.9 percent increase, Title said. That 4.9 percent increase was eventually slashed to the approved 2.9 percent.

The school board will hold two meetings next week (Tuesday, Jan. 17 and Thursday, Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Board of Education conference room) to discuss the budget, which is scheduled to be adopted at the board’s Jan. 24 meeting.

Title briefed members of the board and public on the his proposed budget, and said that the plan includes some improvements and initiatives while remaining “fiscally responsible.”

“It has, I think, a lot to offer,” Title said.

Some of those initiatives and improvements Title spoke of include:

  • “Beefing up” math support for middle school and high schoolers, which includes additions to math department staffing;
  • The “complete reconfiguration” of special education departments, which has an impact on staffing, Title said;
  • A new student information system, which Title said the most recent audit revealed such a network is “sorely needed in the district;”
  • Expansion of the English Language Learners (ELL) program to the elementary schools;
  • Additional afternoon office coverage for the elementary schools
  • Additional staff for the increasing high school enrollment. “There’s n o doubt that high school enrollment is going up, and we need to address that,” Title said;
  •  Preventative maintenance measures (such as funds for the roofing programs) and additional plumbers;

Title explained that some of the increases in the budget are “moderate” compared to last year’s requested increases. “We took our medicine last year,” Title said of the special education department’s budget -- the same goes for contract negotiations and legal costs, which were “rolled back” from last year’s expenses.

Title noted that this should properly fund transportations costs -- the district may need to add a bus or two to keep up with increasing enrollment, and there’s a three percent contract increase for transportation, he added. This is the last year of the transportation contract.

“We need to properly fund for custodian overtime,” Title concluded. “We need to take our medicine for that this year.”

Another area of note in this budget is the 2.60 decrease of fulltime employees for the Fairfield public schools district.

Below is glance at the 11 components that make up the school budget:

Section

Proposed Budget

Increase/Decrease ($) from 2011-12

Increase/Decrease (%) from 2011-12

Staff Salaries

$98,160,441

$2,108,083 increase

2.19% increase

Benefits

$21,106,018

$947,612 increase

4.70% increase

Instructional Services

$2,087,077

$99,309 increase

5.80% increase

Contracted Services

$2,271,511

$85,531 decrease

3.63% decrease

Transportation

$7,583,864

$563,430 increase

8.03% increase

Tuition

$3,836,255

$124,207 increase

3.35% increase

Other purchased services

$1,334,003

$9,244 increase

0.70% increase

Supplies/texts/materials

$2,663,980

$188,402 increase

7.61% increase

Operations/maintenance of buildings

$9,121,889

$113,026 decrease

1.22% decrease

Capital

$1,219,668

$64,301 decrease

5.01% decrease

Dues and Fees

$80,235

$7,162 increase

9.8% increase

steve sheppard February 28, 2012 at 04:08 PM
momof3....Thanks, I understand the addition of a new school. Just seems strange that we added the exact percentage increase in teachers and administrators. I would of thought that we would of added more teachers verses adding new administrators.
fully involved February 28, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Steve; Can you let us know where you are getting your data from. If i recall correctly last budget year 15 new teaching positions were created and 11 in this years proposed budget but I don't see any increase in administrators except forthe 1/2 position of the Associate Sptnd.
steve sheppard February 28, 2012 at 04:31 PM
I emailed our first selectman and asked for the percentage increase in teachers and administrators since 2000. I was sent a sheet that showed a 22% increase in administrative and teaching positions since 2000.
momof3 February 28, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Steve, just because the percentages are the same, doesn't mean the numbers are the same. We did add more teachers than administrators. If you have 50 administrators and you increase by 22% you are only adding 11 new administrators. If you have 200 teachers and you increase by 22%, you are adding 44 teachers (numbers are not accurate) May seem odd that the percentage is the same, but it may just be a coincidence.
steve sheppard February 28, 2012 at 06:23 PM
momof3...I understand it may be just a coincidence, but in the private sector we are all doing more with less (at least at my company) people and money and I can only hope that at the school administrative level they have the same mind set and it is not the same old business as usual. I would think that no matter how many new teachers are added that we would not be adding the same percentage of administrators. It's probably in their contract that they have to maintain some ratio of teachers to administrators, if that is the case then its the same old problem of the same of business as usual which I can only hope changes.
Melioro February 28, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Unfortunately, this is too much of an emotional issue for many people and they are blinded by their complete and understandable protection of their children. I have children, too and want the best education possible. We need to fins a reasonable analog to discuss these topics that does not hold the same emotional roadblocks as our children. Perhaps (and this may not be it) we can equate the strong desire for the best education with a desire for the best shelter/protection for our family in purchasing a home. When I have buy a house, I look at a range of homes that are roughly 20% more than I want to spend and 20% less. I weigh the benefits, or lack there of, of each house and decide if those benefits are worth the extra money. But the fact remains I want the best possible house for my family, and am limited only by finances. Now, let's assume that I tell the realtor just that I want the best protection, and she tells me she has the house, that I shouldn't worry about what's inside, or how much I am paying, because obviously if it costs more, even if more than I can afford, it HAS to be a better house. I can't imagine ANYONE purchasing a home in that scenario, yet every year we have parents defending the same such situation when it comes to the education budget; that being, if it is going higher, our children MUST be getting the best education available. We need to look inside and make sure we are really getting what we are paying for, not just throwing money away.
Melioro February 28, 2012 at 10:07 PM
momof3, I am going to bet that that 22% of administrators was a heck of a lot more money than the 22% of teachers. Starting teacher salary is around $40k, last I checked. Administrators are making $100k+. I for one would MUCH rather see three more teachers than one more "elementary math specialist liaison assistant" or whatever creative names they come up with for more warm bodies on Kings Highway.
steve sheppard February 28, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Melioro....well said. I'm more for what's happening inside the classroom than the fancy outside facade that we have been building that have turned out to be pleasing to the eye, but have turned out to be expensive to maintain, heat, and cool.
steve sheppard February 28, 2012 at 10:55 PM
My son had a great teacher a few years ago. End of school she told me she got a promotion. I asked her what kind of promotion. She told me going into BOE administration side. I asked why and she told me more pay less work. In the private sector administrators (in general) make less than their counterparts. So it seems to me BOE has it backwards.
Fairfield Parent February 29, 2012 at 12:51 AM
I agree with many points here...but as I said why is no one looking at the quality of education? And no I am not against the teachers. The curriculum is sliding. As for fancy buildings, Fairfield Woods did need an auditorium...but the whole building looks ugly from every vantage point - not sure what anyone was thinking with the design elements costly or not - just not a pretty sight to look at so a waste on so many levels that there was not better oversight on the expansion and if even benefited the nearby homes (which I am not living in one). My own child thinks the building is ugly. I am not sure why it needed a copper roof or purple expansion brick wing. Either way the focus needs to be on quality not just if it costs more it must be better mentality. Agreed.
Melioro February 29, 2012 at 01:28 AM
Fairfield parent. The issue is always the same; too many people equate cost with quality so when this comes up, those same parents get their hackles up and defend every penny the BOE wants, assuming it's going to mean better schools. In my opinion, education is degraded when the system moves from a conversation with the "boots in the ground" teachers to a top heavy, legislative system that looks at just numbers and figures and gets paid handsomely for making charges for change sake, as opposed to real, meaningful improvements, assesing there success (or failure) and improving on it more. The Superintendant is the highest paid person onthis town and tool no stance or offered no valuable insight on several important topics. There is a disconnect between our children and those making the decisions affecting them and it is only getting larger.
Fairfield Parent February 29, 2012 at 01:52 AM
Admittedly Melioro I have been one of those people...but over the last year I am really fed up with what I keep reading. Please don't get me started on the Superintendent or salary level..I was vocal that Dr. Clarke's salary was too high ... and now we have the same issue still with someone as you state takes no stance and offers no valuable insights. With so many people struggling in this economy, it seems we need AMAZING leadership for this salary level....and why does Fairfield have one of the highest paid superintendents in the state? Amazes me, and I live here and have kids in this school system!
Eleanor Bruce February 29, 2012 at 03:00 AM
New superintendent's salary causes controversy Kirk Lang, klang@bcnnew.com Published 01:04 a.m., Friday, April 2, 2010 Superintendent The contract, , runs three years and will pay Title $250,000 ($225,000 in base, $22,000 in annuity and $13,000 in deferred payments).
Creeky February 29, 2012 at 03:31 AM
Thanks momof3. I was so frustrated that people were missing this, I couldn't respond without it turning into a destructive diatribe. It seemed everyone that felt the costs were too high were in fact making the best argument for more spending!
Creeky February 29, 2012 at 03:43 AM
steve, I think you are hitting on a very, very important point. I do not think the mindset you are hoping for exists in any public sector job. I think I can prove it too... Think back over the years about government, federal, state, and local, in any time that there was any financial crisis or debt issue, the proposed solution is always the same, more revenue!!! It is never honest cost cutting. Sure they'll trim something here or there, but mo meaningful change. I've been listening to our leaders at the Federal and State level and I am hearing the same thing, talk about cutting costs and concentrate on raising revenue. Connecticut, sales tax, need more, income tax, need more, casinos, need more... Federal, honestly, I can't consider the issue of taxes on the rich (wherever that line happens to be being drawn lately) as there has been no effort to cut cost. What will they do next, once they've spent all that money? Most insulting of all is hearing a politician claim that we can't go for austerity in bad times; you've never cut costs when times were good!!!
Creeky February 29, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Melioro, You said, "We need to look inside and make sure we are really getting what we are paying for, not just throwing money away." Compare the cost of public and private schools (the real cost, all dollars coming in from all sources, including endowments, divided by the number of pupils). I think you'll find, whether you look at primary, secondary, or collegiate level, on the average, private schools operate at about 60% of the cost. So no, you are not getting what you are paying for.
Creeky February 29, 2012 at 04:00 AM
I don't want to pick on whether the architecture is beautiful or not, that is subjective. What is not subjective is that a great deal of effort was spent on designing and building an aesthetically pleasing structure, that is obviously more expensive to maintain than the ugly bauhaus structures where we went to school. I don't know the motivation behind this decision, though I don't assume any intentions were anything but good (with the exception of some of this likely was ego driven). But narrow minded good intentions that ignore the tremendous responsibility of how one spends their neighbors money shows quite a broken "mentality." I would encourage all to think about this and really ask yourselves, did your government fail you? I say yes. Does your government lack the responsibility and sagacity necessary for their positions? I say yes.
Creeky February 29, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Here's a thought, particularly for Mike Tetreau. Since Fairfield runs government as a business, why not fully embrace the precepts? Consider that fees are collected in excess of cost, e.g. a building permit costs more than the town spends generating and enforcing the permit, including all (buildings, cars, training, et cetera). So, this is a for profit business, that's inarguable. Now, sticking with the building department example, the market is down. There is a significant reduction in permit requests. Therefore, the revenue stream is reduced. The profit margin has shrunk. Business theory requires one reduce costs. Why not do so? Put out the mandate, your profit is down X dollars, therefore, you must reduce cost by the same X dollars. Ahhh, that creates a lot of problems doesn't it? Of course, it wouldn't, if government were run legitimately. It isn't though. As we've just discussed, government contains a number of for profit ventures. And not only is this corrupt, it's unAmerican: as these are monopolies. Continued...
Creeky February 29, 2012 at 04:22 AM
Mike, why not take one small step towards legitimate governance on this, and require all the for profit departments to reduce cost by the same percentage that output (permits) have been reduced? Or do you really think the same number of staff is required to do half the work load, and reducing them would drop us below core competency, or worse yet, grind the permit process down to so painful and slow, one must hire an attorney to get one at all? :) Please respond Mike. Please.
steve sheppard February 29, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Right on Creeky
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:29 AM
Sounds good to me.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:30 AM
No. If they like to work so much, then do it for less.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:32 AM
"Golf Commissioner"??? WTF??! Well, kind of better than the Asst. Dean of the Copier" in the schools, lol.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:33 AM
That almost made my drink snarf up my nose.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Education is more than one learns in school.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:40 AM
I envy you.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:41 AM
That's a very good move. I am too. Don't be a sucker.
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Don't tell me you really believe that nonsense? Maybe want to believe?
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 02:02 AM
It's bait and switch. Raise the patronage numbers while telling, uh..the people, that it's for their benefit. Esp. for something as etherial as "education", no one would question it out of fear and adherinh to the state motto "Don't Rock the Boat".
Alexander B. C. March 10, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Good call.

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