Tuesday, June 25, 2024

BOE Finance Committee Special Meeting

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May 21, 2024 – Finance Committee Special Meeting

Items for discussion were the possible actions on the fiscal year 2024-2025 proposed Stratford Public Schools budget. All information was obtained from the following video links.

For those who missed the Finance and Special BOE meeting, here are the video links:

The meeting reviewed itemized estimates of expenditures. The BOE asked Acting Superintendent Heather Borges to put together a scenario that would outline how the BOE could spend the additional money in the budget.

Everybody on the board had an opportunity to sit with Borges and hear explanations of the recommended adjustments, as to where the numbers come from and what her thought process was. Pamela Mangini, Chief Operating Officer, answered numerous questions from every BOE member.

Some key takeaways they claimed:

  • Provide students with the most direct service possible with the dollars that were allocated in the original plan
  • 33 Stratford Education Association (SEA) members were eliminated through restructuring gifts and grants
  • 27 SEA positions were created, lowering the number of involuntary transfers, creating 19 interventionists, four media specialists, one mental health professional, one SLP (Speech-Language Pathologist), one business teacher, one music teacher.
  • There were approximately 18 teacher retirements – currently have 43 SEA positions posted.
  • The restructuring of the central office reduced the number of administrators from 18 down to twelve.
  • Promotions and retirements enabled the BOE to secure all 10e USA members using grant funds and involuntary transfers and restructuring.
  • Additional cost of $126,000,307, which is to add four tutors for secondary school and $122,000, which is to add one FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) reading interventionist.

ALPHA has been eliminated, and according to the Finance Committee meeting, they worked with Kate Mascia, Coordinator Alternative Services/ALPHA, and the building principles. The plan is to have the ALPHA students meet with a school counselor and create a school plan for each of those students, as well as add an additional mental health professional that will be working at AIP (Alternative Instructional Placement), where they are sending the ALPHA students.

The committee was questioned if there would be other programs to meet ALPHA student needs, as well as provide specific examples of how AIP can replicate or enhance the support provided by ALPHA.  Each student from ALPHA needs an individual plan, there is no one program or one thing that will be perfect for everybody. 

The committee responded: Some of the students that have IEPs (Individualized Education Plans) and identifications may benefit from our step programs that are at both high schools; some students may benefit from CTE (Career and Technical Education) options and work credit, and there has been a lot of work that’s gone into the school counseling department. We have worked with Joanna Najarian-Garb, Supervisor of 504, School Counseling, and Assessments, Curriculum & Instruction, on credit recovery so each student needs an individual plan. There is no one program that is perfect for every individual student. Some of the students may access AIP, and that may be the place in which their needs are met. 

ALPHA is only affecting 38 to 41 students. They are all important, so I just need to better understand what is going to be different support-wise for these students who are being returned from ALPHA than when they were originally at Bunnell or Stratford High School.

Borges’ made a statement on the AIP and the description of the coordinator, which is run out of AIP, and is for our Project Uplift (a program designed to reduce school violence by addressing specific factors affecting Stratford Public Schools students: interpersonal skills deficits, background/current experiences of trauma, and a local juvenile justice system, which has evolved away from juvenile court interventions but has not yet replaced them with an effective, restorative strategy). The job responsibilities are they work with students that have been suspended or expelled, they work with homebound students, they work with students that need an alternative way in order to learn, and that is the program that is the position we created using Grant funds in order to make sure that Mascia, who is an absolutely wonderful alternative coordinator, has a job that fits within her skills.

Resident Comments Following the BOE Finance Meeting:

Melissa Ezarik:  A low point during tonight’s BOE finance committee meeting was the motion and subsequent vote to remove $300,000 from the already slashed budget based on the assumption that some teachers would retire or leave and their salaries would not have to be paid. Pam Mangini said it made her feel uncomfortable to do that just before all the Republican board members all voted yes.

Our board chair also made a statement at the very end, asking Heather Borges to confirm that in all reality, it’s impossible for a school district of our size to help every single student succeed and statistically there will always be kids who fall through the cracks. So very inspiring to hear that oh well, some students will of course not succeed in our schools.

ALPHA is gone; head of it is getting a new position that will assist in helping the students do OK in the high schools. Borges noted that the bright side is that getting rid of the program is a more inclusive /least restrictive environment approach.

Elementary librarians only were saved.

Coaches replaced with interventionists, which alliance money can fund. Temporary grant funds, that is, which leaders have criticized past BOEs for using.

Only 4 elementary librarians are part of this approved budget. So they’ll be splitting schools, I suppose.

Janice Cupee: It also sounded like the new interventionist positions are the same coaches but with new titles. By having new titles they were able to use alliance funds to cover some of them. It’s good if they aren’t losing jobs, but Heather made it sound as if they would only be helping struggling students rather than working with teachers directly.

Mike Suntag: I have notes. If I can read them I will send highlights. Big news is that they hired a second assistant Supt besides the one they had. That means Diana Diorio and this new guy will split elementary and secondary responsibilities when approved by the board.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian made an impassioned speech about the loss of ALPHA. Those kids will be integrated into their regular schools, develop IEPs, and some may be placed at AIP. 

Heather Borges saved many of the interventionists through the Two million gift, but by not being in the operational budget, we will face the same fiscal cliff next year.

1 COMMENT

  1. This was the statement made before the vote:

    Before we proceed with the vote, I want to express my gratitude to the community, teachers, staff, and students who have tirelessly advocated for a 6.69% increase. Your passion and commitment to our schools have been inspiring and deeply appreciated. You have shown what standing up for our students and their futures means.
    As members of the Board of Education, our primary duty is not to meet arbitrary financial targets set by the town but to advocate for a budget that prioritizes our students’ educational needs. It’s not about cutting essential services to fit a number; it’s about ensuring our schools have the necessary resources to provide the best possible education.
    Now, we are confronted with a budget that starkly falls short of meeting the needs of all our students. Despite the tireless efforts of Mrs. Mangini and Ms. Borges, this budget threatens to dismantle crucial programs and staff, including the ALPHA program and over half of our librarians, interventionists, assistant principals, and curriculum directors. These cuts will undoubtedly have far-reaching, detrimental effects and indefinitely perpetuate our presence on the Alliance list.
    Scott Ezarik, a junior at Bunnell High School, voiced his frustration and concern at a Town Council public forum. He said, ‘I am very angry about our Board of Education’s plan to cut multiple jobs (librarians in particular) and a program that our town really needs: ALPHA.’ He urged our town leaders to make a strong stand for education.
    I share Scott’s anger and frustration. Unfortunately, we are now about to implement these devastating cuts. To Scott and all the brave people who stood up for education, I am deeply sorry that we are again forced to try to do more with less
    The fundamental problem with the approach being taken is that some people are trying to run this like a business, not an education system. Education is not meant to be a for-profit system; it is meant to be an equalizer. Due to this fundamental misunderstanding, our education system faces yet another year of staff reductions, the elimination of the 30-year-old ALPHA program, and fewer resources for our students, teachers, and staff. Stratford’s children have less and less because of these negligent decisions. We must champion a budget that guarantees a comprehensive and equitable education for all students, not one that jeopardizes their future by stripping away essential resources and support systems.
    Therefore, with a heavy heart, I am compelled to vote against this budget. Its potential repercussions are too grave to ignore.

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