Board of Education Chair, Debbie Leidlein kicked off the meeting a few minutes after 7pm with a very brief summary of the current situation relating to school start times and bus routes. In her remarks, she stated that during the Board of Finance's March 14th meeting, the Board of Finance made cuts to the Board of Education's budget amounting to $700,000. Chairperson Leidlien stressed that the Board of Finance does not have the authority to determine how the Board of Education spends the resulting budget. She then turned the meeting over to Superintendent Robinson who delivered a short presentation of slides outlining, in some detail, what the Board of Finance indicated they were seeking to eliminate by cutting the $700,000.
These line items included reductions of what Board of Finance Chair, John Kortze had called "commodities". For example a $39,000.00 reduction based on a lower diesel bid that arrived after the budget was completed as well as a nearly $400,000 reduction in medical expenses that was found possible just hours before the meeting that night. Of that medical expense, nearly $200,000 could be tied to the Education budget the balance belonging to the Town Budget . Key to this situation though was the Board of Finance's decision to eliminate approximately $120,000 in it's (the BOF) understanding that AllStar's bid had stated that it would be possible to further adjust costs downward by reducing the number of buses by "4 Plus".
Dr. Robinson went on to show slides depicting scenarios of school bus routing and time tables that were presented generally by AllStar in the Board of Ed meeting April 10th. It was at this Board of Ed meeting, Chairperson Leidlein later indicated, that the board first learned that to follow the Board of Finance's recommended spend, (the reduction of two additional buses), would necessitate moving Hawley Elementary to a 9:05 start time and changing the bus routing to put the St. Rose and Reed School students on the same buses.
One parent addressed the chair and asked "if this is a budget issue, why in your emails did you specifically say it wasn't?" The parent was referring to an email that was sent by Leidlein on April 20th which stated this situation was a result not of a budget issue, but rather it was "based on having the schools aligned for the most effective scheduling of teacher professional development time". This was a point that later BOE member, John Vouros, under pressure from another parent on this topic, sought to explain saying that the need for professional development time to be aligned among the four elementary schools came from the Elementary School Teachers and Principals. Later in the meeting, Hawley School Principal Jo-Ann Peters, clarified that it was never the intention of any of the principals or teachers to align the schedules to the latest of the elementary times but to the earlier "Hawley schedule" or something close to it. The Hawley Principal was backed on that comment by one of the school's first grade teachers, Mrs. Pearson. Pearson added that the teachers from the other Elementary schools, as well as the parents, have repeatedly requested to move to the Hawley time schedule. She went on to say that she believed that the earlier start time was preferred because of the benefit it brings to the children. "By 8:45, we have several reading groups already going". She said the earlier start time allowed for better alignment of the day's lessons to the child's attention span. When asked by another parent what the cost would be to align all four of the elementary schools to the Hawley schedule neither the board nor AllStar could say for certain but they did approximate that it would require on the order of 45 additional buses.
Approximately 30 parents addressed the board and, at times, the Allstar representative. Almost all of them expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed new time schedule for multiple reasons including child care, work schedules, and conflicting schedules with their other children's schedules. The district said that they intended to offer before and after school care at a cost - approximately $25.00 a day- for families that were impacted. In addition, several parents said that they were against the new times because the later dismissal time would mean the end of some after school programs for their children while rushing to others as well as limited time for "kids to just be kids".
There were also several parents who asked for additional information on the ballot so that voter intention could be made clear, for the Town and Education Budgets could be separated, and for school related transportation to be pulled out of the Education budget. It was stated that these requests would require a "Charter Revision" and are not requests that the Board of Education could consider.
There is a Board of Education meeting this evening and public participation is invited. Chairperson Leidlein made it clear that a decision had not yet been made. The meeting of April 30th was video taped and will be posted on the Board of Ed's website.