Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I'm taking a hiatus over the next week and won't be posting much until the new year. The week of 1/3/2011 is going to be fast and furious. The Superintendent will be presenting his budget recommendation on 1/6/2011. Expect a lot of detail to be posted here as the budget becomes available.

As a side note, this blog has surpassed 3,000 page views in the 2 months it's been active!
May you have a safe and happy holiday season. As always, thanks for your patience and your support!

Have a very Merry Christmas!!!

Tony Perugini

Thursday, December 23, 2010

CT Education Commissioner Resigns

CT Education commissioner Mark McQuillan handed in his resignation to state leaders, citing "stress" of the high-profile a.k.a read Big Target, position. "I realized that I no longer wanted to do this work, and saw all too plainly that the stresses of my job are more than they should be and more than I am willing to accept," he wrote."

This announcement follows a blow out he had a day earlier with his advisory committee. Also, I believe, he sees the writing on the wall as Malloy will replace him anyway. You can read the article here.

I first met him last year at the CT CABE conference for new BOE members. At the conference, Mr. McQuillan was pitching support for Obama's Race to The Top education program. What bothered me about it was that Mr. McQuillan had no plan for CT on how to support the program but he wanted enough signatures so CT could receive funding for it. IMO, it was a desperate attempt to solicit support for funding without knowing the strings attached to the program. Very short-sighted and most Superintendents and BOE's in CT did not sign the application. It was apparent to me then, and now, that Mr. McQuillan was very short-sighted and reactionary. So his departure may not be a bad thing...except...

Malloy will appoint a new head of education. This is a mixed blessing...fresh leadership is welcomed but if the so-called education mandates that have been passed by the democrats in Hartford over the last several years are any indication...I'm afraid that education costs will skyrocket and not for good reason.  Think elevator access to press boxes. Time will soon tell.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Behavior of Central Falls, RI Teachers Questioned

You may recall the firing of 88 teachers (all) at the Central Falls, RI high school this past spring for poor performance leading to many failing students and their inability to pass standardized testing. If I recall correctly, less than 16% of the students were proficient in reading and writing at that time. Many of those teachers were rehired for the start of the new school year after the union agreed to work longer school days and other changes.

The Providence Journal Reports that because of the loss of class time, more than half of the students at Central Falls High School received no grade in at least one subject on their report cards for the first two months of school. The Education Action Group is calling for the re-firing of certain teachers at Central Falls High School, one of Rhode Island’s most troubled schools, because educators there continue to fail their students and snub local taxpayers with dismal attendance.

According to Deputy Supt. Victor Capellan, 453 students out of a total enrollment of roughly 840 students, received NG — No Grade — on their report cards this fall in at least one subject.  Ouch.

EAG believes that teachers’ conduct in recent weeks is a clear indication that district leaders made a terrible mistake in trusting local educators to rededicate themselves to their jobs.

"We believe the best course of action now is to quickly re-fire those who have dismissed their responsibilities to Central Falls students, and send a strong message to their colleagues that they could meet the same fate. Their union will object. That should not be a consideration." - EAG

Naturally, the union is defending the teachers' recent actions and performance.

But I have to wonder just how much of this problem is related to teacher performance as opposed to the administrations inability to lead their school district and find adequate replacement teachers in a timely manner? Certainly, missing teacher staff leading to a severe shortage of instructional time is a big problem but finding substitute replacements should always be a top priority for Central Falls especially since all of these teachers were initially fired. Succession planning, it seems, is non-existent in Central Falls.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

12/2/2010 BOE Meeting Highlights

I thought I would highlight parts of the 12/2/2010 BOE Meeting. Namely, time marks in the video below:

10:38   Union Update by Chairman Brittingham
13:15   Finance/Budget Update by Perugini
14:00   Explanation of Special Education Budget ~$500K Shortfall by Dr. Florio
23:17   Motion to Discuss Special Ed Shortfall w/TC Budget Committee by Perugini
24:45   Planning Committee Update/CHS Boys Locker Room by Dixon/Mascianna
31:21   Motion to Engage in Design Services by Dixon
34:28   Mr. Mrowka's 'Recollection' of the Locker Room by Mrowka
37:37   Policy 3150 BOE *Mandatory* Budget Adoption Requirement by Dixon

A few thoughts/comments on the meeting. Regarding the CHS Boys Locker room, despite the planning committee's wishes to fix the existing locker room it's apparent that some on the BOE are hoping that a field house will be the only answer. I believe that since the locker room has been sufficient there's no need to build a field house. We should focus on making the existing space work with the money we do have in the capital budget. The one unknown is what the specific ADA compliance items will be as well as cost to implement. This could very well crush the budget for the CHS Boys locker room.

Regarding Policy 3150....there have been various discussions on this during topic. The issue at hand is that BOE has, for the last couple of years, reached a stalemate in adopting a BOE budget even though it's been adopted before the 2/15 deadline each year. There was concern over what happens if the BOE cannot agree and pass a budget by the 2/15 deadline? Last year, when the first vote to pass the 2010-2011 budget failed...Peter Massey suggested that, by default, the Superintendent's budget moves forward to the TC, LOL. As far as I'm concerned, that would be a cop-out.

Alan Sobol and the Policy Committee changed one word in policy 3150 which now reads:  "The Board of Education shall present an itemized estimate of the cost for the operation of the school system to the town manager who shall pass it on, with or without recommendations, to the Town Council for final disposition."

In other words...the BOE is legally obligated to pass a budget. It's the responsibility of the BOE members to get the budget done. We shall get it done. This is a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. I also believe this forces the BOE to compromise on the budget, if a comprimise-situation presents itself. This will force more meetings to discuss the budget in public and work through issues before the deadline.

"No Further Discussions Being Planned" - Teacher's Union Update 12/2/10

"Right now, there are no further discussions being planned..." said BOE Chairman Gerry Brittingham during an update at the 12/2/2010 BOE Business meeting. The start of Gerry's update concerning the upcoming budget process and teacher's union discussion can be seen at the 10:38 minute mark in the video below:

Translation:  There will be no help from the teacher's union for the coming 2011-2012 budget. If there's one positive to this news it's that, unlike the 2010-2011 budget, we're not being strung along until May. I suppose I owe the executive union board a 'thank you' for that.

Artificial Turf Project at Cheshire High School Advances

Apparently, and surprisingly, the town council voted 5-4 in favor of moving the turf project forward this past week. At best, I thought the TC would table this discussion since it's not a priority for the town at this current time and the fact that the track resurfacing project was voted down in November. Besides voter discontent for the track project, there are issues with proceeding forward with one project over the other, namely the drainage work that needs to be done to support both projects. Details here.

The BOE voted on moving forward with the turf project just before the November election assuming that *IF* the referendum for the track resurfacing passed both the track/turf could be done together to reduce cost and install a proper drainage system. However, the downfall of the track referendum throws a wrench into works since both projects share infrastructure and I believe installing the turf field will, to some degree, destroy parts of the track.

I welcome the fact that this project has been assigned to the PBC. The fact that we now have an extra set of eyes, unbiased to a degree, scrutinizing this effort is welcomed by me but not most on the BOE. For some reason, (my perception), some on the BOE, if not the administration, shutter at the thought that the PBC would get involved with any BOE-capital project. But I agree with Jimmy Sima's sentiment that the PBC will do the project in such a way that is best for the town.

CHS Indoor Air Quality Issues

I've heard reports of some students and staff becoming ill and/or having minor respiratory symptoms at CHS this past week. It appears this is related to indoor air quality issues which CHS has seen before in recent years. The problem seems to be focused on the pipe tunnels located under the northeast portion of the school (the original building). A few years ago the openings from the pipe tunnel to the building above were sealed to reduce air incursion into the classrooms above.  The remedy may require assuring those seals are still sound, but also creating a negative air pressure in the tunnels so air is vented to the outside of the building rather than into the building.

A statement and action plan were communicated from the administration to students, parents and staff this week. I copied the announcement and action plan below:

"In recent weeks, staff at Cheshire High School has been reporting a variety of symptoms including headaches and respiratory issues with an apparent concentration in certain classrooms in the northeast section of the building.  In order to determine if the symptoms are related to the school building, a specialist was hired to thoroughly inspect the building and evaluate the indoor air quality at the school.  Results of the preliminary assessment have identified some moisture incursion in the utility tunnels under the north wing.  An action plan has been developed which includes several immediate corrective measures that are already under way which our specialist believes will solve the problem.  In addition, the District will work with an engineering firm to provide guidance on the cause and the potential solutions of the moisture incursion.
We will be providing updates on the corrective action steps completed on the Cheshire High School website as well as through PowerSchool.  Any concerns or questions should be directed to Mr. Kevin Ryan, the Principal of Cheshire High."

 CHS Air Quality Action Plan

Monday, December 13, 2010

CHS Junior Chosen for D.C. Program

MRJ reports that CHS Junior Hasher Nisar was chosen to attend the prestigious U.S. Youth Program in Washington, D.C. This is the second year in a row that a CHS student was chosen from CT for this program. Congratulations Nisar!!!

You can read the full MRJ article here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

12/3 MRJ Article on CHS Boy's Locker Room

The 12/3 MRJ article describes the 12/2 BOE Business Meeting vote on the locker room. The BOE voted unanimously to approve up to $10K to solicit proposal and estimates from engineering firms on solutions to the locker room problems. The $10K will be taken from the $500K currently allocated to the project. Apparently, the last TC resolution/referendum assigned the project to the BOE, not the PBC. Although it's not assigned to the PBC, I believe PBC representation on this project is imperative to ensure the locker room is addressed appropriately and within PBC & ADA guidelines. As a first step, the BOE needs to solicit designs for the locker room, then garner estimates.

You may have seen me quote the phrase "Shoot, Ready, Aim!" in the past when it comes to certain Town & BOE capital projects. In some ways, this phrase applies to the locker room. Someone, somewhere derived a cost estimate of $500K which was put on the referendum and approved by voters. However, it appears that we don't know what the estimate truly is so we need to hire a firm, after the fact. Shouldn't the last BOE have voted to hire an engineering firm (FIRST) before arbitrarily picking $500K to be put on the referendum? Cart/Horse.

If you watched the meeting Thurs night, you heard misinformation from Stephen Mrowka regarding his recollection of the locker room. According to Stephen, the ceilings are less than 8 feet tall and the room is not usable whatsoever.  Stephen also indicated the last time he was physically in the locker room which was many years ago when it was used for shop class.

Back to reality for a moment...the ceilings are adequate and the drop ceiling system can be replaced/retrofitted to sit higher if needed. The reason the tiles are an issue is not due to students bumping their heads into them but rather the humidity/moisture that permeates the space. At least we all agree that the ventilation is a key issue for the space.

Regarding the drainage "issue", Mr. Mascianna reminded the BOE that it's been well over a year since the drain backed up in the locker room and that, coincidentally, the problem stopped after the drain was snaked some time ago.
I'm just trying to put the problems into proper perspective which seems to get buried under the embellishment of a few on the BOE.

The BOE Planning Committee's focus is to attack the four known issues in the current CHS Boy's locker room (Drainage, Ventilation, Locker Space, ADA Compliance). However, during Thursday's meeting, it was obvious that the administration and a few BOE members are hoping that whatever firm is hired for the design phase, will recommend a field house solution.

Preliminary estimates on a field house put's the cost around $1.2M. The voters approved $500K to fix the existing locker room, not to build a field house. There's no funding for a field house.

It seems that elevators are the bane of existence for our school district because should renovations be undertaken at the locker room, we may need to install an elevator for access to the locker room for ADA compliance in addition to ramps, specialized door handles, etc. Elevators seem start at $450K.

It could very well be that the cost to renovate the locker room will be more significant than $500K. Time will tell. Meanwhile, the BOE is preparing for what appears to be yet another difficult budget process.

Gov. Christie on New Jersey Union and School Reform

"Governor says voters should reject school budgets if teachers won’t accept concessions."  For those that follow Gov. Christie you'll know that he's on a mission to reform unions AND schools in NJ. In just over 11 months on the job, Christie has demanded that local school unions accept pay freezes and contribute more toward their benefits. He has rejected calls for higher school taxes and proposed a tight cap on property taxes. He has also called for a maximum salary for school superintendents throughout the state.

Basically, he's told the unions, and everyone else in the education community, that there's enough money available to get the job done, if they all make a few sacrifices for the common good. In this regard, CT and NJ share a similar problem/opportunity. Full article at:  No mincing words: Christie bashes New Jersey union for selfishness and slimy tactics

11/18 BOE Meeting Video

BOE business meetings for the 2010-2011 school year are now available through School Tube. It appears some meetings are missing from Aug-Oct but I expect them to be uploaded soon. Below is the 11/18 meeting. Alan Sobol gave a great summary about how BOE Policy 5131.62 came to be and what it is meant to do and not do. Alan's segment starts at the 65:30 minute mark.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Reminder: BOE Business Meeting Tonight 12/2

The big topic for the meeting is what to do about the $500K short-fall in Special Education funding. Due to a number of state placements in our district this school year, we are over budget on Special Education tuition costs and transportation.  Last year, the BOE was short $250K in this category but we froze several accounts to help off-set the overrun. However, the State reimbursed Cheshire for most of the expense in the form of revenue to the town which ended up in the town surplus.

However, in the current budget even freezing the usual technology, textbooks and supplies accounts won't cover the $500K shortfall. More than likely, the BOE may ask for help from the TC. Which brings up the issue of how to solve this variable-expense. Unfortunately, the school district does not know what all of the special ed placements are going to be until after the close of the fiscal year, which was June 30th. Most of these State placements occurred in July/August..

I'll post a separate topic about the costs and how Hartford reimburses Cheshire for partial special education expenses. At the least town receives some kind of reimbursement even though Hartford is supposed to follow it's own mandates of full reimbursement.