Wednesday, November 16, 2011

MRJ 11/12 Article - Republican at Odds over Ed Budget

In the 11/12 MRJ paper Jesse Buchanan wrote an article "Cheshire Republican at Odds over details in education budget" about a meeting that occurred a few weeks back involving:  Myself, Michael Milone, Tim Slocum, Greg Florio, David Schrumm. The topic of the meeting was the budget format and ways to improve upon it. Namely, the budget request that the Superintendent sends the TC each year. I was contacted by Jesse about the story just before the last storm hit. Jesse was notified of the meeting by a 3 page fax he received by someone at the meeting and indicated that the town council was trying to micromanage the education budget. I don't hide my views and needless to say I did not send the fax to Jesse. More on this later.

The article did not cover what actually transpired at the meeting. How could it? Jesse was not at the meeting and couldn't possibly articulate what was actually discussed. No offense to Jesse. Unfortunately, the article highlighted the disdain some folks have for one another, accusations, declarations of mistrust, etc. Whomever sent the fax to MRJ got their wish which was to produce an article that, if anything, paints the BOE and TC in not the best of light. It's actually embarassing.

For those folks that don't care for the drama, here's what transpired at the meeting. It's worth noting that David Schrumm reached out to us to open a dialogue about ways to streamline the education budget request. It's also worth nothing that many of the ideas presented have been discussed by this BOE already. For me, I saw this meeting as an opportunity to finally bridge a gap between the TC and BOE over the budget. For others, however, it was an opportunity to play politics.

The topic of grants and accounting for them was discussed. In the BOE budget book, there's a 1-2 page summary of the various grants utilized in the budget. A request was made to identify when the grants start/end as well as provide a short one paragraph summary about the grant. i.e. What is it used for? What expenses does it pay for? What opportunities does it create? If this request sounds familar then it should be because these are the questions parents have been asking the BOE on this topic throughout MANY budget workshops. This detail is not included in the budget.

Accounting & Accounts
MUNIS. A request was discussed to utilize the MUNIS system, specifically, the account format that the town departments utilize. Looking at the town's budget book, each account contains a detailed write up about it. The write up lists, among other things, assumptions being made, any unforeseen issues, calculation definitions, etc.  Compare that to the BOE accounts listed in the budget book and that level of detail does not exist. Simply expand upon it in MUNIS and be done with it.

Expenditures: We discussed expanding our budget accounts to include FY '11 ACTUAL Expenditures, FY '12 Appropriated Expenditures, FY '12 Estimated Expenditures and FY '13 Projected Appropriation.  Essentially expanding the columns in our budget to reflect the town budget format.

Expenditure Reductions: The BOE Operating Budget bottom line number DOES NOT reflect the true cost of the operating budget. The $61.3M BOE budget this year does not reflect the true cost. I briefly discussed this in the spring. Why? Because of how grants are accouted for in MUNIS. Say, for example, GRANT A, totaling $100K is used to pay for certain textbook and transportation expenses frelated to this grant as they are incurred during the school year. The grant is NOT reflected as revenue in the BOE Budget. The Texbooks account does not have a projected amount budgeted for this grant. Transportation does not have projected amount budgeted for this grant. One reason for this is because we don't know how much these expenses will be and how much of the grant we'll actually use. This makes it difficult to budget for these specific expenses. But it also underestimates what we actually spend on students in our school district. At the end of the school year, we'll spend more than $61.3M on education. Perhaps as much as $63M or 64M based on how much if the special funding is utilized. This number is not reflected in the budget.

In other words, we do not report the true cost of educating a student in the Cheshire school district. Is this evidence of hiding or malicious accounting? Absolutely not. The complexities and rules found in some of these grants make it a nightmare to capture in MUNIS. However, they can be documented, detailed and summarized in the budget book.

My Opinion
I gave a brief review about the meeting.  I'll add more later. Almost all of the items I mentioned above were items that the BOE have or are addressing so it's nothing new to us. Much of the information requested already exists in other formats for the BOE. I've been pontificating about clarifying and streamling the BOE budget since I was elected. These changes and others are not just my wishful thinking but that of many folks in town that get the "Deer in the headlights" look every year during the budget meetings. Consider that it takes 3 BOE Budget Workshops to explain the education budget which is articulated by Dr. Florio. When those meetings are over folks walk away with more questions than answers. Simple FACT: The budget can be much clearer, concise and self-explanatory. These changes discussed would get us there.

It's unfortunate that someone chose to turn this positive meeting into a politically-fueled article attacking certain individuals. Certainly, this makes for good reading. But it undermines the efforts of myself and others that are trying to educate the public and foster more open dialogue between the TC and BOE.

This article is a black-eye on the face of Cheshire and how it came to be is cowardly at best.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cheshire '11 Election Results

The town council remains largely unchanged with the exception of a tie in the 4th district between Peter Talbot and Steve Carroll. The last time there was a tie on the town council was in 1971. If they remain tied after a mandatory recount, a special election will be held to determine the winner. I commend both Steve and Peter for running an effective campaign and I know both worked/walked the 4th district very hard.

With the Town Council maintaining majority: Is this result a vote of confidence that the Republican majority is doing a good job? Some will consider this result a mandate from the voters confirming the case. Others maintain that, votes aside, low voter turnout is to blame and voters are simply frustrated. Thoughts?

On the Board of Education Cathy Hellreich is back after losing the election in 2009. Party differences aside, I think Cathy's curriculum background is a plus. We have a newcomer Marlena Soble. I have not met Marlena yet but I understand she has a legal background which may bode will for the BOE on the policy committee since Alan Sobol did not seek re-election this year.

Speaking of Alan Sobol, MRJ, reports that Alan Sobol resigned from the BOE. This is news to me. Alan has missed several BOE and Policy committee meetings this year but there was no news of a resignation unless it happened this past week. I hope all is well with Alan.

Incumbent BOE members Todd Dixon, and Gerry Brittingham were re-elected. Newcomer Ed Hill was edged out by Ms. Soble. The Republicans maintain majority on the BOE 4-3.

Town Council
Patti Flynn-Harris (D)
Mike Ecke (D)
Sylvia Nichols (R)
Jimmy Sima (R)
Tim Slocum (R)
David Schrumm (R) 1st District
Tom Ruocco (R) 2nd District
Andy Falvey (R) 3rd District
Steve Carroll (R) 4th District*
Peter Talbot (D)  4th District*
* Tie

Board of Education
Cathy Hellreich (D)
Marlena Soble (D)
Stephen Mwroka (D)
Gerry Brittingham (R)
Todd Dixon (R)
Sandy Pavno (R)
Tony Perugini (R)

Friday, November 4, 2011

11/3 BOE Meeting/Turf-Related Motions Passed

Almost a year later from when I initially requested these policies the BOE finally voted on (and passed) the following motions related to the financial aspects of capturing funds for future turf replacement. While the field is certainly a town-owned asset, this BOE felt an obligation to help defray future replacement costs towards the turf. In order to capture funds raised for this effort, the following motions were drafted by the policy committee:

“That the Cheshire Board of Education request that the Cheshire Town Council establish a reserve fund to serve as a repository of  funds that are to be used for the sole purpose of defraying any future costs associated with the replacement of the synthetic turf field at Cheshire High School that was installed in 2011.”

This motion requests that the Town Council establish a town reserve fund to capture funds for future turf replacement. The BOE's intent is to have a respository whereby donations, field revenue, banner sales, field rental income can be deposited, tracked and controlled. The mechanisms around how money is moved into this account, reporting requirements and the like will be up for discussion by the town council if it chooses to consider this motion.

“That the Cheshire Board of Education direct the Superintendent of Schools to amend the regulations associated with Policy #3453-Student Activity Fund to include the following:

The Cheshire High School Student Activity Fund shall have a subaccount designated as Cheshire High School Turf Replacement Fund.

Funds deposited into the Cheshire High School Turf Replacement Fund shall be made from the following:  a portion of ticket sales and gate receipts for events held on the synthetic turf field; field usage and rental fees collected from organizations for usage of the synthetic turf field; and receipts from Cheshire Youth Sports Programs for usage of the synthetic turf field for events, practices and games.

At least annually, any balance in the Cheshire High School Turf Replacement fund shall be transferred to the Town of Cheshire Reserve Fund designated for Synthetic Turf Replacement.”

This motion is specific to the BOE's accounting. Namely, a seperate budget account will be created to capture funds in the budget (by the defined activities above). The goal is to break out athletic revenue from turf replacement revenue. The BOE Finance Committee is now tasked with establishing reporting and auditing mechanisms around these activities and this account. I expect draft procedures in the coming weeks.

We've already had intest in renting the field to host State championship/playoff games which we had to turn down since the track portion is in the middle of construction.

As far as who determines the prices for tickets, field rental, etc. noted above Dr. Florio confirmed that it's the CHS Athletic Director, CHS Principal in conjunction with the administration. As of today, nothing has been established on pricing other than what's been presented in Vincent Mascianna's plan, yet. It's worth nothing that during the first year of the new turf field, the BOE will not be charging local youth/sports organizations that have donated towards the turf installation.

“That the Cheshire Board of Education include a line item in the annual operating budget in the maintenance account designated, ‘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 approximately $13,000.  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.”

This motion was a source of contention for me. The policy committee drafted this motion with the intent of capturing the "grass field savings" and putting that "savings" towards the turf replacement fund. It was validated by Vincent Mascianna that the actual average cost of maintaining the grass field is ~$17,xxx.xx annually.  A far cry from the $36K savings touted by Bob Behrer and others. The maintenance of the Turf is budgeted at just under $5K.

In my view, I don't believe we should be budgeting savings in this manner. Nor do I believe we should budget the savings towards future turf replacement. In essence, I'm not in favor of moving money from the operating budget into a fund account especially in the middle of a school year whereby anything can happen which can adversely affect the current budget. Frankly, I'd rather use this money in this current budget towards higher priority items in the budget be it an additional part-time IA at Doolittle, additional textbooks/supplies, all of things that the administration touts as being underfunded. Granted, it's not a lot of money but it helps.

The policy amended the motion as indicated above. This motion, in hindsight, is really not neccessary. The intent is good. But, the BOE and/or Superintendent can make a recommendation at any time without this policy in place. I have no intention of making any such recommendation until the end of the school year when the budget is being closed. Even then, I'd rather put any surplus towards higher priority items or give it back to the town as we did with the 2010-2011 surplus. At least this account will exist in the MUNIS system so there will be a record tracking when deposits are made, if any, by future BOE's.

Of course, all of this is moot if the Town Council doesn't establish a fund account (Motion #1) to capture this money. I expect a lengthy discussion by the town council on this request as it's probably the first of it's kind for Cheshire.

Cheshire Storm Cleanup Plan

From Tim Slocum:

Please disseminate this information to all your neighbours and friends over the coming days.

1. The town will be accepting debris at Quinnipiac Park, Mixville Park & Bartlem. The exact areas and what will be accepted will be detailed on the town's website and announced in a code red call later today.

2. Once Council approves the 100K appropriation for town-wide debris removal, crews will work the town as we have done in the past with the bulky waste pick-up. This work will commence Monday 11/14. We may be unable to get this in the Cheshire Herald for Thursday 11/ 10 but the info will get in the other dailies, the town website and with code reds to all homeowners that are registered with the system.

3. Registering with code red can be done on the town's website, The public is encouraged to register their cell phone numbers.

4. Please take the time to thank town employees when you encounter them.