BOE Meeting Provides Few Answers to Budget Cut

Newtown officials have instead scheduled a public information meeting on Monday to address questions.

Most questions about the $1 million reduction in the proposed school budget must wait for a special informational meeting Newtown town leaders have scheduled for Monday, but those at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday learned part of the answer to the question that might have defeated the budget in last week’s referendum.

That question: Why is the school budget increasing when school enrollment is going down?

School Supt. Dr. Janet Robinson said enrollment has gone down, but the decrease is distributed unevenly across all grades and schools, so it doesn’t easily allow her to cut teaching positions.

"Even though we show a decline of 150 students, they are at different places in the district," Robinson said.

She said declining enrollment must hit a "critical mass" before it can be translated into staff reductions without hurting the students’ education.

Robinson made her remarks during her report to the board, a regular agenda item. "Discussion and possible action regarding the 2012-13 budget" was also on the agenda, but Chairman Debbie Leidlein skipped it while announcing the meeting on Monday.

The informational meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. in , immediately prior to the Board of Selectmen meeting, limited to one hour. Members of the public will have a chance to ask questions about the school budget to the selectmen and members of the Board of Finance, Board of Education and Legislative Council.

Leidlein said the meeting was the idea of First Selectman Patricia Lladro.

She said it is intended to inform the public about the budget and get the vote out for the next referendum vote on May 15.

On April 25, following the defeat a day before of its first proposed budget, , reducing it to $68,355,794.

That is still an increase of about $384,000 from the present year, but it might jeopardize the district's plans to start all-day kindergarten.

It would also reduce the proposed tax increase from .57 mills to .31 mills (2.34 percent to 1.28 percent).

Council members who supported the reduction said their constituents had focused their complaints on the school budget. They said many had asked why the schools need more money when they have fewer students.

Robinson addressed another complaint that came out of the April 25 Council meeting, when Councilman Mitch Bolinsky blasted her for not attending the meeting.

The school superintendent said she was attending a meeting out of town that night and she was surprised no school board member defended her at the Council meeting.

Paul Alexander May 03, 2012 at 05:04 PM
NewtownRocks, Excellent comments! The BOE budget is, BY FAR, the majority of the taxpayers liability. And compensation expenses is, BY FAR, the majority of the BOE budget. Compensation expenses is the EXACT right place to begin cutting. The public sector is completely out of touch with the reality of a deleveraging world. That is historically the case as they have the luxury of spending other people’s money. The public sector is largely insulated from many of the real time changes in the fiscal health of their funding sources (taxpayers). A great analogy is a spendthrift child who, while spending mommy and daddy’s money, is completely out of touch with their parent’s declining financial situation. They just don’t care as long as the money keeps coming in. And it better keep coming in or they pitch a fit. What the public sector is experiencing now, and the Newtown budget vote is a GREAT example, is the delayed effects of that deleveraging as the taxpayers (most of whom experience direct and immediate consequences of a declining revenue world) finally say enough is enough and they reign in the spendthrift child.
Teacher May 03, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Paul, saying that receiving an appropriate salary and wage is "the luxury of spending other people's money" is truly ludicrous. I mean, seriously. Everyone who has a job is "spending other people's money?" That's how the economy works. I provide a service and am compensated for it. I'm sure, whatever your profession is/was, you did the same. That money came from somewhere, but that doesn't mean it was "other people's money."
NewtownRocks May 03, 2012 at 06:25 PM
When budget cuts are made low hanging fruit is always selected first because it is easy. After that hard decisions need to be made. Nobody like to put themselves in the line of fire and make hard decisions, even when it is their job. It is likely there will be another round of cuts when the second round fails and it will be the town side turn to take a hit. Every private company is doing more with less. So can our town. This is not an indictment of town or BOE employees, but more productivity is needed. To say the town and BOE are efficient organizations is a stretch. We need innovative leaders and strong willed decision makers to push through reforms. The status quo is not sustainable especially if young families with children do not move into Newtown. Constantly higher property taxes do not attract young homebuyers. Spending per student does not have a strong correlation to student success after about $6,000 per student. Newtown spends much more than that. More important is parents commitment to education and spending time with them doing homework and reading from a young age. Highly educated parents tend to have well performing students. This is not always the case but there is a strong correlation. Parents can have a much greater impact than additional funds.
Matt May 03, 2012 at 06:34 PM
I lived and worked in Newtown for 10 years but moved 13 years ago for work and family reasons. I have many friends in town and former colleagues in the school system that I stay in touch with and have missed living and working in Newtown terribly. However, this past year, as I have read story after story and bitter comment after bitter comment in the Patch and the Bee, I am saddened by the negativity and ugliness that is coming from a community that was once so wonderful. I don't know the current school administrators, but it seems to me that their is a great lack of communication between the administration and the parents/community on issue after issue. Forget the bus contract issue which is probably the biggest divisive issue in town right now, let's just look at other issues like instituting early dismissal days, bus route changes, bullying claims, etc. - everything appears to be reactive instead of proactive. Involving all stake holders early in a process is key to leadership 101, and sadly the current school administration appears to be running around lighting fires with a lack of communication and then working desperately after the fact to try to put fires out and not understanding where the frustration of parents and taxpayers if coming from. I worked for an incredible school system back in the 90's and lived there in the Nicer in Newtown era, sadly, from my view on the outside, I am missing living and working in Newtown a lot less now, and that is a shame.
NewtownRocks May 03, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I always find good old days comments interesting. The past usually has a way of seeming rosier than it really was. Also after the recession ended in the early 90's it was boom time and people felt good. Now there is a general malaise across society and a drive to reign in government spending. Government and schools are rigid. I do not know if it is by design, but that is how it has become. Every time terminating a town or BOE position comes up everyone starts heated conversations. I believe it a fact that both schools and towns across the country can do more with less. Bold action and changes are required. As with all change there will be perceived winners and losers. Right now everyone is out protecting their piece of the pie. This includes the decision makers in Newtown. Change takes strong leadership and time but there has been a shift all across the country and Newtown is not exempt. The message is to reduce spending and the corresponding losses in service levels will be accepted by most.
Paul Alexander May 03, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Teacher, My first thought, after remembering you teach others, was that I just couldn’t muster the energy to respond to your comment. But here goes. Never said, never will say that public school teachers are not valuable. Just that their compensation has no basis in any measurable market. AND, in the current economic environment, that they are overcompensated. And just what exactly is an "Appropriate Salary"? What YOU determine? What some union negotiates with a school board?
Paul Alexander May 03, 2012 at 07:54 PM
Teacher, Everyone collecting a paycheck in the private sector can trace their income to REVENUE generated by their firm. Some are more responsible for that revenue generation than others, but EVERYONE contributes to the bottom line. Private sector employees are constantly evaluated as to their contribution to that revenue generation. They keep their jobs and command a "market based" versus "appropriate" salary based on their contribution to the financial bottom line. When times are tough, the private sector cuts back. Salaries and benefits are cut or stay constant for an extended period of time. Some private sector employees are even let go. I know that is a completely foreign thought to you.
Paul Alexander May 03, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Teacher, You, as a public sector employee, don’t generate ANY revenue. Every penny of the budget of your public sector enterprise is TAKEN from producers. It’s other people’s money versus money your organization EARNED. Your salary is not market based. Your salary, nor your benefits, nor your job, is in jeopardy during contracting economic times. If I want a raise I have to prove I have contributed more to the bottom line, and then it doesn’t matter unless the entire firm has grown the bottom line sufficiently to give me that raise. You are insulated from that reality. Your private sector salary only goes up. How is that fair? Especially in light of the fact that you don’t even generate the revenue that pays for your constantly rising salary???
Paul Alexander May 03, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Teacher, I am so fed up with the “We’re teacher’s. We’re valuable. Pay us ever increasing “appropriate” salaries.” BS. And if you REALLY believed in your value you would enter the private sector where your compensation is limitless.
Newtown Resident and Teacher May 03, 2012 at 08:24 PM
I think it's also to remember that it makes sense for teacher salaries to comprise the largest portion of the budget because a) students receive their education directly through their teachers, and b) research has shown that highly skilled teachers are one of the most significant factors in student learning, and we want to attract highly skilled teachers to Newtown. As for sacrifices, it's not really fair to imply that Newtown teachers haven't made sacrifices. Between the reduction in the number of days in the school year, and the step freeze, there are teachers who are making less now (and will continue to make less through 2013) than they made during the 2008-2009 school year. My intention with these comments is only to bring facts and perspective, not to demand that teachers be paid more.
Teacher May 04, 2012 at 12:25 PM
I don't provide revenue in the traditional literal sense, but you're implying that that means I don't provide value to the community. Obviously I provide value to the community. If we only valued people who generated monetary revenue, we wouldn't have any police, firefighters, teachers, social workers, doctors, or public servants. Our democracy has long held that those professions generate value to our society, so we do not leave their fate up to the whims of the market. I'm surprised you don't know this simple fact of political science, since you seem to be a smart person. If those people were paid according to revenue generated, we wouldn't have any of them, and our society would collapse. Of course, if you want to live in an Ayn Rand world where everyone's out for themselves, go to your island and do it. But we have a social contract in this society, one I would imagine you have benefited from your whole life. I sure have! Also, I would like to note that I am making less now than I did in 2008-2009. In fact, when inflation and my contribution to my health care are both factored in, I am close to making less now than I did in 2003 when I started teaching. I personally know several people in the private sector who have gotten raises, bonuses, and promotions. This hysteria about the private sector job market just doesn't hold true around here. It seems to me like people will use any excuse to bleed the schools dry, simply because they can.
schoolmom May 04, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Does anyone know what happened that resulted in the bullying update being removed from the agenda at the last minute? I'm hoping that there was a resolution of some sort. There were alot of people at the meeting to discuss bullying and none of them had the opportunity to speak during public participation after the topic was removed.
Out Door John May 04, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Reading Paul Alexander makes me sick to my stomach! Apparently Paul had a bad school experience and never recovered! Did he become smart enough to write all of this dribble on his own or did a qualified, underpaid teacher put up with his antics and still gave him a quality education so he could read and write? What does he now do for a living and how much money does he get paid and is his worth in society less important than a teacher who prepares the youth of today hopefully be more than scum living off everyone else and doing nothing? People in glass houses shouldn't hide behind an anonymous comment on a topic he knows nothing about!
Big Family May 04, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Out Door John, then stop reading, I dont think Paul is saying (and I dont speak for Paul) anything other than GUARANTEED COMPENSATION, TENURE, and a 9 MONTH WORK YEAR are things that do not exisit in privite sector. Apparently, John, you had a bad school experience in Economincs. The idea that taxes should continue to increase without explination and with no accountability for where the money goes until after it's spent makes me sick to my stomach.
Swami May 04, 2012 at 06:30 PM
"LIFERS" shouldn't lecture others on working in the private sector.
Paul Alexander May 04, 2012 at 09:21 PM
I've got 12 years in the private sector. Who’s perspective is better than someone who has played in both sandboxes? BTW, while in the "public" sector I moved 9 times...spent about half my time at sea and away from my family...entered the two-way shooting gallery, twice...landed on boats, at night (yeehaw!)… had a number of my civil liberties restricted by the UCMJ…and didn't have no union barking for me. SO...I'm not quite sure how you compare that to a teacher who goes home every night, has summers off, stays in the same place for 30 years, and has a bunch of unionistas representing their interests? Off to the Tiki Bar!
Paul Alexander May 04, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Out Door Potty Have the courage to post under your real name, otherwise, well, you're just a coward.
Paul Alexander May 04, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Posting behind an alias. Brave!
Swami May 05, 2012 at 01:10 AM
But it's also noteworthy that one of the most generous defined-benefits public-employee pension plans in the country isn't being mentioned in this discussion. There is a branch of the federal government that lets you retire after 20 years on the job, even if you're under age 40, and guarantees immediate benefits of 50% of your final salary for the rest of your life. That branch is the military. If you joined the army at age 18, and retired in 2011 at age 38 as a $55,000-a-year sergeant (pay grade E-8) after an unexceptional career, you would be entitled to $26,000 per year for the rest of your life, plus cost-of-living adjustments. The average 40-ish retiring sergeant would put the taxpayers on the hook for over $1m in lifetime retirement pay. That's not counting a lifetime of free medical care from the VA. And the military doesn't have a pension fund; the Pentagon budget's $18 billion in retiree pay this year will be paid directly by taxpayers.
Swami May 05, 2012 at 01:10 AM
How does that stack up against overgenerous state employee pension plans? Let's take those California teachers. You can't start teaching at 18, since you generally need a masters degree. But if you got your MA, started teaching at 24, and retired after 20 years on the job, you would get...nothing. California teachers aren't eligible for retirement benefits under age 50, and between 50 and 55, you need at least 30 years' teaching equivalent on the job. So, say you were a late bloomer, started teaching at 35, and retired 20 years later at 55. An average teacher in Los Angeles with 20 years' experience would probably be earning around $86,000 a year. Taking early retirement at 55, you'd get a retirement benefit of $25,000 a year—less than that 38-year-old sergeant. And you'd have to buy your health insurance out of that.
Paul Alexander May 05, 2012 at 12:03 PM
Sully, MRS is not a defined benefit plan. Read the defining law and you'll see what MRS is. Maybe, if you're ethical, you'll retract your post. And that California teacher could have entered the military. BTW, what branch did you do your service in?
Swami May 05, 2012 at 02:27 PM
A very timely article on the value of teachers, and their under compensation... http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/05/opinion/blow-teaching-me-about-teaching.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper
Swami May 05, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Paul, my post was from The Economist, argue with them. Also, no matter how you spin in, it's tax payer money. US ARMY! http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/08/pension_funding?page=4
Dee Dee May 06, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Frankly I find it outrageous that one compares a teacher to someone who puts their life on the line for our country. Yep they get a great retirement - IF THEY DON"T GET KILLED. I admire our teachers but I do think that their pay should bear some relation to the real world - performance based raises, pay freezes in tough times, and be subject to layoffs. I think public sector budgets should be zero based - built from the bottom up every single year and not just lets start with last year and see what more we can get.
Mike Kelley May 06, 2012 at 01:37 AM
Outrageous is an understatement. I will just leave it at that. Get a grip and get your friends and neighbors out and vote next time. That Sgt. did it for you and your family as well as his/hers. Spent some time talking with a MSG while I was at a meeting at Ft. Drum a few months ago, 10th Mountain Division. 6 deployments in last 5 years. Not supposed to happen but it did. Check it out on the internet. Deployed more than any other unit in the Military in the last 10 years. Wife at home with 3 kids. I think these people earn every penny they get for life. Pick up the book Horse Soldiers and see if they did not earn their pay and retirement.
Dean Mulligan May 06, 2012 at 03:30 AM
Why are Republicans so Pro War, and anti Veterans? http://www.veteranstoday.com/2010/12/28/gop-looks-at-cutting-veterans-health-benefits-for-2011-session-to-fulfill-pledge/
Les May 09, 2012 at 11:05 PM
The Superintendent should have been at the meeting, period. It was not up to anyone else at the Council meeting to defend her.
Gina Wessen August 26, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Would like to get your input about the tone of the "Accountability In Newtown" FB Group, and whether you think it helps or hurts the town. Please chime in at the new "Accountability in Newtown CT (Open and Uncensored)" FB Group here: http://www.facebook.com/groups/359442710803141/
Jodie September 01, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Please respond to the real Gina (Donna Boyce) at the link below: The corresponding "referring URL to Gina's Profile Picture is: https://www.facebook.com/po.murray/friends?ft_ref=mini Donna Boyce: http://www.donnaboyce.com/Why_Call_Donna/page_566782.html
Bill December 28, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Paul Alexander, Try teaching for a month, then talk like you know something besides glorifying the private sector. A pompous fool like you would get eaten alive in the classroom


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