Thursday, October 27, 2011

EAC Candidate Questionnaire Controversey

The Cheshire Herald reports that the Education Association of Cheshire has sent questionnairs to both Town Council and BOE candidates. Among the questions contained in the questionnaire are the following:
  • How will you assess the quality of education and continued improvement of the school district?
  • How will you advocate for educational funding including bonding and budgetary funding?
  • How will you address budgetary shortfalls without affecting the quality of education or extracurricular activities?
  • What message would you like to give the teachers of the EAC about your views on education?
This may be the first time that the EAC has sent out a questionnaire to Town Council and BOE Candidates. According to the Herald, the letter sent to the candidates by PAC Chairperson Carolyn McEclravy states "...verbatim answers will be shared with the Education Association of Cheshire (EAC) and members will be encouraged to discuss the complete questionnaire with one another." The letter also states "...that the EAC can encourage the election of the most qualified candidates."

I don't find it surprising that the EAC is reaching out to the candidates. With the anti-union mentality gaining momentum in the U.S., an upcoming contract negotiation, terrible economy and budget constraints I think it's a good idea that the EAC understands where the candidates themselves stand on education. Personally, I would've like to have seen a candidates forum hosted by the EAC (much like the LOWV debate). I know time and coordination is a challenge this late in the election cycle but perhaps next time?

I found BOE Chairman Brittingham's response (or lack thereof) on the questionnaire interesting. Brittingham did not reply to the questionnaire. According to the Herald, Brittingham stated "...cannot reply to the questionnaire because of the mix between politics, public employees and taxpayer dollars. The questionnaire has a return address of Masella of 525 S. Main St. (Cheshire High School) and McElravy (PAC Chairperson) at 414 B Brooksvale Road, or Norton School."  Brittingham states "I can't participate in that. I think it crosses the line. Public employees are doing PAC work at taxpayer funded facilities."

The article is worth reading as it describes the candidates responses and concerns with the questionnaire.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cheshire Teacher of The Year - Ms. Megumi Yamamoto!

Ms. Megumi Yamamoto was honored as Cheshire's Teacher of the Year during last weeks' BOE meeting. I have never met Ms. Yamamoto in person until the presentation last week but I've often heard about her from students, faculty and administrators alike. She is a very positive influence on her students and is regarded highly by her colleagues. She also made a lasting impression on me shortly before the teachers' concessions discussions. Among the politics being thrown around at the time about concessions, Ms. Yamamoto reached out to me and offered to help foster a positive dialogue with her colleagues. Unselfishly, her main concern was the students. I still owe her a cup of coffee! Congratulations Megumi!

More on the Cheshire Teacher of The Year at the Cheshire Patch.

Election Time, "E" Word: Specifics Please?

No doubt many of you have been following the local election, namely the Town Council candidate debate as well as various news articles covering the election. During the Town Council candidate forum hosted by the LOWV last week, I noticed one theme was raised by most of the D's which is spend more money on education.

Easier said than done. As a parent with children in our school system (let alone a BOE member) I'd like to know specifics from these candidates. Namely, where do they propose obtaining more funds for education and, more importantly, how do they intend on investing it in our school district?

Specifics please?

There are many residents fed up with election smoke & mirrors being huffed and puffed by candidates. "Spend more money on Cheshire Schools" is nothing more than a blatant attempt to appeal to those parents with children in the school system that are upset (for various reasons) on a perceived lack of investment in education. But these parents have heard it all before and simply saying "Spend more money on Cheshire Schools" isn't going to cut it for them this time around.

Specifics please?

During my 2 years on the BOE and to the best of my knowledge, none of these candidates attended a BOE meeting (be it business or committee) and offered suggestions on how the BOE can/should invest more money in the school system.

In fact, I have yet to see some of these candidate attend a BOE meeting or dialog with the BOE on how they can help the school district. Period.

Of course, this excludes Peter Talbot who is a BOE member.

And speaking of Peter Talbot, his quote "...hack and slash education budgets and assault our children in this town." is the kind of dribble that has turned off some voters in Cheshire. David Schrumm is correct when he stated that this town council did indeed raise the education budget over the last 2 years.

But if the education budget has been "hacked and slashed" then perhaps Peter can explain the following:

The BOE Policy Committee (of which Peter is a member) is preparing a motion for the BOE to consider the following (discussed at the last policy committee meeting):

“Move that the Cheshire Board of Education include a line item in the annual operating budget in the maintenance account designate, “Annual Contribution – Turf Replacement Fund.”  It is the intention of the Board to designate those monies currently associated with maintaining the sod field into an account to offset the future replacement cost of the synthetic turf field.  The amount of said line item for 2012/13 shall be $13,XXX.  The amount contributed each year shall be at the discretion of the Board of Education based on the recommendation of the Superintendent of Schools and shall be based on the status of the budget at the close of the fiscal year.”
If the education budget has been slashed, hacked, burned...then how is it that Peter can support a slush-fund line item for turf in the BOE Operating Budget? I propose that the $13,000 in savings be put towards textbooks, upgraded telecommunications lines, a part-time assistant at Doolittle or towards purchasing technology devices to aid with classroom learning.
Consider that at the end of the 2010-2011 school year, the BOE had ~$24K leftover in it's budget. This money was given back to the town as surplus.
Consider that at the end of the 2009-2010 budget, the BOE had ~$320K leftover in it's budget. This surplus was moved to the Medical Trust Fund.
Consider that as of 10/20/2011, the BOE Medical Trust Fund balance is $3,000,000.
Regarding Peter's comment on Doolittle Enrollment:  "Talbot said the average class size at Doolittle School had risen to 23 children and that, should test scores fall in coming years, it would be attributable to a "slash and burn" attitude toward education spending."
Well, what Peter didn't mention during the debate is that the school district received 19 teacher retirements as part of the concession package negotiated with the teachers' union this past spring. Why didn't Peter propose utilizing 1 or 2 of these positions in the budget to add teachers at Doolittle and offset classroom size this school year? With 19 positions, there certainly was wiggle room in the budget. Oh, right, the budget was slashed and hacked.
Peter also forgot to mention that Dr. Florio and the administration implemented a remediation plan for Doolittle by adding additional instructional assistants, increasing reading, writing and math lab time to ensure that the children receive one-one instructional time moreso than the children at Highland.
Now, I singled out Peter here because his comment of "slashing and hacking" is outrageous. I actually like and respect Peter Talbot. During his short time on the BOE, he has been a positive influence. He has good ideas (specifics) on where/how to invest in education. I wish he would focus on those specifics during his campaign.
Peter is not alone. Joe Schmitt made the following accusation: "Rumor has it that the majority on the Town Council want to do away with Advanced Placement". To echo Andy Falvey's reply on this, I have not heard about this either. In fact, not a single Republican member of the town council ever asked me or the BOE to eliminate AP classes at CHS.
But I'll ask Mr. Schmitt this question:  Namely, where does he propose obtaining more funds for education and, more importantly, how does he intend on investing it in our school district? The town reserve? Higher taxes? Increased pool fees? Where?!?
When these candidates (any of them) come knocking on your door over the next few weeks, ask them for specifics. Have these candidates done their homework? Can they state fact or propaganda? If these candidates were your investment advisors, would you trust them with your money (i.e. property tax dollars) and that they will invest it wisely in town? Are they accountable, responsible and transparent?
I welcome any candidate interested in the education budget to meet with me and establish communication on how we can work together to better education. I think I speak for many in town when I say that we need candidates that will put party lines aside and demonstrate collaboration not propaganda if our Cheshire is to move forward.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Turf Field Nearing Completion

The first piece of turf is put down today. It was confirmed at this mornings' bi-weekly project meeting that the turf project is on schedule and the turf installation will be completed next friday 10/14. The track portion of the project is slated to be completed on 11/11. It appears, barring any surprised with either project, that CHS will be hosting Southington on the new turf on Thanksgiving Day!

Monday, October 3, 2011

10/6 BOE Open Forum Meeting

The annual BOE Open Forum meeting is scheduled for Thursday 10/6 at 7:30pm in Town Council chambers. This meeting is traditionally set up to allow Board committees to meet informally with members of the public.  The format has been to have the Curriculum and Planning Committees meet during the first half hour and then the Finance and Policy Committees meet during the second half hour.

This is a great opportunity for the public to interrogate the BOE members and administration, share ideas/issues/concerns, etc. Last year this meeting was well-attended and with the election next month, I hope we have a great turnout.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cost of Track Repairs Exceeds $10K Contingency

I was informed this past week that the final number came in for repairing the ashphalt substrate surface. The change order for this is now at $14,470. The cost of repairs from RAD Sports was approved by Milone and MacBroom. According to Milone and MacBroom, the cost of these repairs was calculated in accordance with the approved bid by RAD Sports on a per-foot basis.

Asphalt seals and repairs needed are for 365LF @ $5/LF for a total of $1,825.  Asphalt patch and repairs needed are for 843SF @ $15/SF for a total of $12,645. 

There's a contingency of $10K for asphalt repairs in the $338,890 appropriation for the track. The difference of the $4,470 will be paid from the BOE Maintenance Budget assuming the BOE votes in favor of this expenditure.

This topic will be discussed at the BOE Planning meeting this week.

A copy of the change order can be found here.