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BOE Members Say Chairman Overstepped Authority on School Bus Talks

Board of Education members say the results of the talks were OK, but the process through which they took place could have violated state law and board procedures.


Several Newtown Board of Education members criticized Chairman Debbie Leidlein Tuesday for what they described as disregarding board procedures and state law when she held several ad hoc meetings with the school bus company to iron out schedule and route problems.

The board members’ complaints weren’t about the result of the meetings, which helped iron out problems getting students to school.

Some routes for middle school students are still too long, and at least one parent complained about it at the board’s meeting Tuesday, but School Supt. Dr. Janet Robinson said most of the problems that generated many complaints at the beginning of the school year have abated since the bus company, All-Star Transportation, added some extra buses.

The problem is, according to board members, Leidlein did not have the authority to hold meetings with the bus company or to give the company the OK to add the buses. BOE members Richard Gaines and William Hart advised her that it not only violated school board procedures, but also the state Freedom of Information Act, which requires that meetings be given proper public notice.

Leidlein said school board members Laura Roche and John Vouros also sat in at her talks with the bus company, but at Tuesday's meeting she offered no other explanation for allegedly overstepping her authority. Hart noted that violating the FOI Act could result in legal trouble for the board.

Hart said he was also unhappy that Leidlein gave the company permission to add buses. Roche said the company’s contract calls for 42 school buses and it was not running that many, but Hart replied that the contract had unit pricing, which means the decision had budget implications that should have gone before the whole Board of Education at a public meeting.

Earlier, during the public participation portion of the meeting, parent Desiree Galassi of Huntingtown Road said she still wasn’t satisfied with her children’s school bus schedule.

Her two high school-age sons and her middle school-age daughter must leave the house earlier than in previous years, yet still get to school later, sometimes missing home room.

“I don’t think it’s a question of All-Star. I think it’s a question of the budget,” Galassi said.

The bus schedule problems started after the company responded to school board budget concerns by cutting the number of buses for Tier 2 of the schedule, the buses serving Reed School and St. Rose School.

Robinson said Tier 1 serves the high school and middle school, which have a combined enrollment of 2,600 students. Tier 2, on the other hand, has only about 1,200.

Although most of Newtown school bus routes still averaged about 45 minutes, some of the Tier 2 routes stretched to well over an hour, prompting noisy complaints from parents at the board’s regular meeting in September.

Len Destin November 21, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Kudos to Debbie for taking action. Small town politics for small minds - too worried about how 'they look' verus providning service to the community (i.e. the they job they are there to do).
Daniel Patti November 21, 2012 at 06:35 PM
This is a prefect example of big government inefficiency. Ms. Leidlein addressed the problem (getting kids to school on-time) while others were wasting time trying to figure out the proper rules and procedures without violating the FOI act. Absurd.
Dirk Pitt November 21, 2012 at 07:35 PM
High School students are having to walk on the roads with no side walks! Better add more speed bumps!
Sam Mihailoff November 21, 2012 at 08:07 PM
the poor high school kids in the road??? Gee, never was a concern when the track team would run up Mile Hill>Oakview>Washington Ave...FOUR ABREAST
brenda November 21, 2012 at 08:30 PM
why try to fix what wasn't broken..I liked knowing my kids driver was in the same town..and I would see them in the store and stuff..blind people..hmm
Sam Mihailoff November 21, 2012 at 08:44 PM
KARMA...just wait until the diesel spill at Kendro...oops, can't blame Newtown
Desiree Galassi November 22, 2012 at 03:11 AM
A correction: Reed School bus (not middle school as stated in the article). Also, our high schoolers ride 2 busses in the morning. They ride to the middle school, dismount, wait and board another bus to the high school which makes their trip longer than it needs to be. At the start of the school year one of the busses refused to let them board and the students didn't know what to do. Our son Max called the bus company himself. A bus finally took them all to school. The busses were arriving very late every day and caused a lot of confusion and distress for the students. The lack of an adequate budget to provide sufficient busses (among other things) is an issue the BOE must address this year. I am not understanding how busses could be added back (our route still stinks as it did not change) without an impact to the...<ahem>..."same services" budget we were told to vote for.
Kinga Walsh November 22, 2012 at 11:35 AM
There is a procedure to follow in all instances - it would be good to see the Republican, IPN and Democrats ALL follow it which would avoid parts of this continuous finger pointing. Wanting to "fix" a problem is a good thing but no one is above the "law" or process that must be followed in order to do so.
Desiree Galassi November 22, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Is the contract for All Star available for public review? I am certain many of us would like to read it. What is so complicated about it that the public cannot receive a straight answer? Either it specifies enough busses or it doesn't. Routes of the O/O''s and All Star (along eith new student pick up data) should have been cross referenced by an internal person (Mewtown side) as a measure of accountability. Have we done that? If so has this been communicated? Enough with the politics, folks. I don't care which party you are on. Please become humble enough to give us the truth, as well as fix the problem. Are there or aren't there enough busses??
Desiree Galassi November 22, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Newtown not Mewtown. Typing on the microscopic iPhone!
Mary Ann Jacob November 22, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Desiree, the contract is available to the public, you can obtain a copy at the town clerks office. they did not add any busses, merely had existing buses do more work. in the morning anda fternoon, each bus can typically do three routes. a HS/MS route, a St Rose/Reed route and an elementary route. some buses were not doing the middle route, now they are. as i understand it they had hoped using fewer buses in the middel tier would help with the traffic, but adding them back helps with the long routes and overcrowding. its a juggling act. My opinions only, as usual.
yoda November 22, 2012 at 04:56 PM
I can’t get over how Mr. Hart would throw his own board under the bus when he doesn't even show up for all the meetings. Doesn't vote! He approves the salary raise for JR, who didn't deserve it! Didn't he also get demoted on the BOE? I think this is sour grapes!!!!
yoda November 22, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Just Imagine if you ran for selectman!!! Go for it PO, you are the BEST!!!!
Island Girl November 23, 2012 at 01:49 PM
This article makes me suspicious that Mr. Hart and Mr. Gaines had a vested interest in the bussing problem persisting. It gives the impression that the actual concern is that some of the problems were able to be cleared up too quickly. I am also weary of this being called a 'budget issue'. This administration had an agenda to change the bussing system long before our last budget cycle.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com November 24, 2012 at 03:02 PM
Didn't hear you say a word when kathy filed an FOI Complaint!
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com November 24, 2012 at 03:06 PM
First Mr.Hart had serious eye surgery,thus missing meetings. second gee didn't Kathy F. do the same thing.
yoda November 24, 2012 at 10:04 PM
lololololololo, now that's FUNNY!!!!!
Leesa LaBombard November 25, 2012 at 12:49 AM
Go back to the real drivers owner opperators and you wont have a problem anymore
yoda November 25, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Brucie, Do NOT compare Kathy to Mr. Harts, almost like comparing me with Darth Vader!!! Nice try!!!!!!
yoda November 25, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Sorry, JR doesn't fix what she breaks; she sweeps it under the rug!!!
Newtownpatchreader November 26, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Bruce, Is there no cogent thought that you can follow? Your comparison to the current FOI issue and a past board member is unfounded and uttered only to denigrate an individual and belittle a serious  breach of the FOI law by a past board. The current issue is wether to not the current chair had an illegal meeting....I'm going to guess because a quorum was not present and business needs to be conducted, that we will learn there was no issue here. However, you have a long history of frivolous FOI complaints that have been thrown out....but if your serious, then file a complaint (if you haven't already) and continue your efforts to denigrate honest elected officials and their efforts. The previous BOE  member's FOI issue was that the previous board tried to reprimand her for ridiculous and illegal  reasons if memory serves. They were found in violation on all counts and were supposed to make reference to the issue in board minutes. Couldn't be more different than the current issue. Let's call a spade a spade....this is you trying to make political hay....nothing more. 
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com November 26, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Newtownpatchreader it must be easy write insults anonymously. The comparison with Kathy Fetchick is legitimate. Both she and Mr. Hart felt a FOI violation occurred. In Kathy's case she filed a complaint with FOI, in Mr. Harts case he simply alerted the BOE to their potential error as a way of addressing the issue. A much more productive way to deal with it. I am not aware of a history of my filing FOI complaints on my part, letting someone know they violated FOI, and not filling a complaint is a much more sensible way to handle a violation. The objective is to make sure the individual understands the law and does not make the mistake again. I believe Mr. Magnifico recently handled his issue with the Police Commission the same way.
Newtownpatchreader November 26, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Ok Bruce.....I'll bite. A few questions for you. Question:  Anonymity serves many purposes, but doesn't cloud the issue. Does anonymity make the issue any different? Question:  How does the BOE attacking one of its members compare to the current issue ? Question: Are you saying you haven't officially filed FOI complaints ?
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com November 26, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Being rude clouds the issues. In both caes we have members of the BOE who are not being good team players. In Kathys case the BOE wanted to discuss her poor board behavior,but they made a mistake in doing it in ececutive session. In this case members of the board are also discussing poor behavior and this time did it in public. On FOI I can't recall any complaint I have made to FOI, but perhaps you can. Commission help me out here.
Another LongTimeResident November 27, 2012 at 12:09 PM
The transportation budget was more than adequately budgeted. They just transferred out $100,000 and there is still a balance of over $70,000. See their latest financial report and review the transportation line: http://www.newtown.k12.ct.us/Portals/Newtown/District/docs/BOARD%20OF%20EDUCATION/Financial%20Reports/2012-2013/10-31-12%20sum.bud.pdf
Another LongTimeResident November 27, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Kudos to Ms. Leidlein for sticking up for Newtown and getting the discussion going when the administration refused to. Shame on Bill Hart.... perhaps if he showed up to a meeting or two, he would know the facts. He could be helpful but instead decides to distract the board with unsubstantiated claims.
Kevin Fitzgerald November 27, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Another long time resident...because you don't want us to know who you are, I assume from your comment that you do not know Bill Hart or his outstanding track record on this and the previous BOE. In addition, little else in your comment is accurate.
Sam Mihailoff November 27, 2012 at 01:07 PM
you do not know Bill Hart or his outstanding track record on this and the previous BOE. WOW, simply amazing!!!
Newtownpatchreader November 27, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Bruce, You'll have to excuse me if I don't use your perspective  as a benchmark for rudeness. If memory serves and looking back into archives, it appears that Kathy did try to avoid a formal FOI. However, the BOE at that time went in a different direction. There is a huge difference, in my opinion, of impugning someone's character and trying to silence an elected official in this country, compared to questioning wether or not a board followed its policies or FOI laws. If in fact the current BOE did just that, then that is a mistake that should be corrected and remedied going forward. Let's see what happens as I'm sure the story will unfold and we will know what rule was or was not broken. It's clear that the previous example played out in favor of the complainant.  I maintain you will use any opportunity to bring attention to an elected official, especially if it's a republican and regardless of wether your accurate or not, only to degrade. One need only search the Patchs archive of your comments to make a determination. 
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com November 27, 2012 at 07:03 PM
There you go again, making derogatory comments while hiding your identity. I may make mistakes, and even go a bit overboard with passion, but at least I have the courage to do it in the open in my own name.

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