Tuesday, April 26, 2011

R.I.P Anne Giddings

The Cheshire Patch reports that Anne Giddings has passed away yesterday at St. Mary's hospital. Full article can be read here.

I'm deeply saddened by her passing and I believe we lost one of the most unselfish human beings I've ever met. She was one of my main influences for running for the board of education. She somehow figured out how to get me out of bed at the crack of dawn on those chilly fall morning to stand and wave to traffic with her on Route 10. She was a human being I naturally wanted to be around. She was and remains an inspiration for me and my family. She genuinely wanted to help the constituents of Cheshire. Her passion, positive attitude and enthusiasm never went unnoticed.

Anne is a thoughtful person. I recall several occasions whereby I'd come home and find various notes, articles or other information left for me by Anne in which she thought would be helpful. I could never get her to ring the doorbell and stay for coffee as she was always on the go. She went out of her way for me on several occassions and my only regret is that I was never able to return the favor.

Anne, you will be missed dearly but you will always be in our hearts and our thoughts.

My condolences to her family, friends and loved ones.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On Hiatus for a Few Days

I'll be on hiatus through the weekend. As such, I will not have time to monitor this blog so I put it into moderated state. Your comments will (hopefully) not show up but I will release them on Monday when I get back.

Enjoy your holiday weekend and for those of you that celebrate Easter, Happy Easter!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Concession Package Details

Since this detail was discussed last night at the BOE meeting I'll also post it here. I think it's important to understand what's in this 'concession' package. I'm putting quotes around 'Concession' because I know some will feel this is not a concession by their definition. Bear with me as I explain this:

  • The MOU (Memorandum of Understanding)  extends the current teacher's contract one year and which ends June 30, 2013.
  • Wages: The contract splits the last year of the 4.6% increase (2011-2012) over two years. 2.3% will paid in 2011-2012, and 2.3% will be paid in 2012-2013.
    • This is expected to save us ~$650K in 2011-2012. 
    • We were looking at an originally salary increase of ~$1.3M in 2011-2012.
    • There will be no increment/step change in 2012-2013.
  • This part of the package helps us address ~$650K of the $2.1M reduction to our proposed budget for 2011-2012.
 Retirement Incentive:
  •  There's a retirement incentive offer that requires a minimum number of teachers to retire effective 6/30/2011.
  • Option 1: The incentive is paying for a portion of the medical benefits coverage for 3 years for those retiring on June 30,2011.
  • Option 2: The incentive is paying for a portion of the medical benefits coverage for 2 years for those retiring on June 30,2012.  
  • There's cost savings for the BOE with this incentive in that it allows highly paid/tenured teachers nearing retirement to leave the school district sooner. 
  • It gives the Superintendent the flexibility of not hiring replacements for these retirements OR hiring new, lower-cost replacements for the positions OR allow existing teacher's with appropriate certifications to fill these roles.
  • A determined number of positions was specified in order to make certain savings would be achieved.
  • The amount of savings from this incentive has been reduced for two primary reasons. First, the BOE budget submitted to the TM already included about $150K in anticipated retirements for 2011-2012. (Note:  Negotiations didn't occur until after the budget was submitted). Unfortunately, the TC double-counted this amount in their reduction to the BOE budget proposal. So the savings from this incentive has been reduced by $150K this week via the budget process.
  • Second, my bias is not to refill the positions vacated by these retirees unless it's a core position for a core program. As such, if we receive (as an example) 20 retirements, I don't expect us to have 20 fewer teachers next year as some of the positions could be refilled. What that turns out to be will be determined in the next few weeks. Even with some or all of the positions refilled (hypothetically) we will still see savings.
  • Basically, any teacher under regular contract with the BOE for 2010-2011 are not be subjected to layoffs in 2011-2012. Teachers working under a one-year, interim or substitute contract are excluded. Same applies for 2012-2013.
  • **However, should there be a 5% or more reduction in State and/or Federal funding to the Town of Cheshire OR the BOE then BOE retains the right to a reduction in force.
  • Regarding this staffing language, be aware that we will already lose about 2.5% in Federal funding for 2011-2012 due to the loss of the federal stimulus money of $540K
  • Should Hartford, namely Malloy, devastate our funding for PILOT, ECS, etc. by 5% or more we can compensate (as best as we can) with layoffs should this situation occur.
I won't comment on what transpired during the negotiations in terms of offers/counter-offers, etc. I will say that when the vote was taken by union membership to enter into concessions with the BOE, the teachers passed that motion by a 2-1 margin. I think that was a positive sign that the teachers were willing to help and/or at least come to the table.

Considering the $2.1M reduction to our budget proposal by the TM and TC, this concession package is the only viable option for BOE at this point in time. Arguably, I detailed the restrictions/consequences of taking drastic/unrealistic action by trying to eliminate 40 teaching positions on this blog. Without this concession package, I don't know how we could possibly find $2.1M. While I do have some concerns with this concession, I believe it's the only saving grace we have at this time.

However, I estimate that we're still short somewhere between $600-900K in 2011-2012 budget. I will have a firm number next week and details on how to make up this shortfall soon. I expect a change in program, extra-curricular and tapping into the medical trust fund. But until the BOE chimes in and the Superintendent comes back with details, this is my speculation at this point. But there will be changes.

Regarding the Medical Trust Fund. (And I will have a dedicated post on this topic soon) the balance is about $2.2M. We received the March claims data this week and claims jumped from ~$300K in Feb to ~$600K in March. It appears to be trending back up. This, in conjunction with  expected HSA participant claims to be paid soon from the MTF, is beginning to drive the MTF balance lower. Based on my view of the MTF and our claim history over the last two years, I believe a safe MTF balance should be around $1.5M. We've come to close to that level last year about to $1.7M this year.

I detail the above because the MTF is NOT a reserve for the operation budget. It's not a savings account, slush fund or the like. I believe it Mr. Ecke who erroneously referred to it as a general  'reserve' during his banter Tuesday night. If the BOE/Superintendent believes we should underfund it next year (i.e. draw it down) to free up cash flow in the operating budget...this is problematic. It will have to be replenished at some point. Borrowing from one unstable liability to pay for another liability is perhaps what got this country into trouble with the mortgage bubble. It's not a fiscally responsible solution. More on this later.

I want to thank the Town Council for giving us an increase to our budget. Although it's $975K, every penny counts and I do understand what went into their decision and the fact that they are looking out for ALL taxpayers in Cheshire. I'm not happy with it, but the BOE will make this budget work one way or another.

I also want to thank Beverly Jurkewicz (union President) for her efforts during the discussions. The concession package is a tough pill for me to swallow but it does help us and shows that the teachers tried to help. I also want to specifically thank the teachers who supported and voted in favor of this this concession package. Most folks may not know this but Tim Slocum was a very positive influence during the negotiations as well. I mention this because I've read many comments criticizing the TC for not being proactive with the union.

Our work continues.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cheshire Teacher's Agree on 'Concessions' - 4/14 RepAm Article

Rep-Am article can be found here: Cheshire teachers agree concessions

"The Board of Education is expected to approve a concessions package tonight that guarantees no teacher layoffs for two years and splits the pay and step increase for teachers over that period."

I was part of the negotiation team and have insight into this agreement. I cannot comment any further since this is pending executive session this evening and I'm not sure what I can talk about since I signed a mound of NDA paper work.

I hope to post more after tonight's meeting.

Monday, April 11, 2011

4/14 Board of Education Meeting

The BOE is meeting Thursday night at 7:30pm in Town Council chambers. There's an executive session item labeled: "Executive Session to Discuss Collective Bargaining". Hopefully there will be something report on this soon.

4/12 Town Council Meeting - 2011/2012 Budget Adoption

The Town Council is meeting tomorrow night and one of the items on the agenda is adoption of a 2011-2012 Operating Budget. 7:30pm Town Council Chambers.

Last week, the Rep-Am reported that the TC Budget committee decided to reduce the BOE's requested budget by $2.1M or give a $975K increase. This was discussed at the budget workshop meeting last week, I'm told. But it does not come as a surprise to me as we've been told about this number going back to last August. I'll hold off commentary for the time being but while it's unfortunate, at least it's consistent.

The fairly lengthy agenda can be found on the Town's Website

Hopefully, attendance will be more than 17 people.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dismal Attendance at Public Budget Hearing Last Night

I could not attend last night's public budget hearing as I'm fighting a sinus infection. I was able to watch the first 50 minutes on public access before it was cut off. When the camera panned around the room a few times, it looked as if public attendance was scarce.

According to Luther Trumelle's article in the NHR today, it appears that the meeting drew about 20 citizens? 

Based on some of the arguments in this blog I expected a packed room last night.

What does last night's showing indicate?

In the article, "Ruocco said he was surprised that there wasn’t much public comment. “Maybe it’s because the public expects us to do our job,”

With the lack of attendance (on both sides of the debate) last night...I have to wonder if perhaps Tom Ruocco is right?

Or perhaps folks are simply fed up and have lost interest in the process?


FWIW, I think Michael Milone has done a good job of explaining the budget throughout the various workshop meetings as well as last night's presentation. Except for one area which is how much (if any) of the Rainy Day Fund a.k.a Fund Balance is being used in his proposal.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Budget Public Hearing Tonight 7:00pm in Council Chambers

Reminder that the public hearing on the proposed 2011-2012 Operating budget is happening tonight at 7pm in the Town Council chambers.

Remaining budget schedule:

TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2011 – 7:00 P.M.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 6, 2011 – 6:30 P.M.
ROOM 207 -209
As needed.

THURSDAY, APRIL 7, 2011 – 6:30 P.M.
ROOM 207 -209
As needed.

Town Council Meeting for Approval
Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 7:30 p.m.