Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Teachers Turn Out To Speak in Favor of City Budget

Roughly 30 people - the majority teachers - 4 parents, and a students, came out to speak to the common council to increase education funding at a public hearing on  the increased proposed city budget Tuesday night. 

All the speakers expressed that it was about the children, the money needed was for the benefit of and the improved education of students. Each speaker spoke on how their area, with the majority speaking about sports and extra curricular activities, impacted the lives of students.

Before those in favor of increased BOE fudning, a handful of residents spoke on other matters. Jonah Center chair John Hall spoke of the need for tree trimming to be included in the budget. Leaders from the NAACP spoke on behalf of funding for programs geared toward minority students in schools. Downtown Business District chair and City Treasurer Quentin Phipps asked that the proposed increase in parking fees proposed by Mayor Drew should not be passed. He also offered to look at the budget as City Treasurer if the Council wanted his help.

Teachers and parents spoke in favor of smaller class sizes- keeping them at 14 rather than 24. Teacher Carla Petruzzi, a third grade teacher at Bielefield advocated for new computers. Her class is 19 students, and with only 16 computers in the lab- 3 have to pair up. She asked stated that the school was given ipads via a grant, and having more would be a benefit so the whole school would not have to share. She also stated that there was a severe paper shortage. Other teachers echoed her similar concerns. Teachers also spoke about how having a fully funded budget would be valuable in keeping extra-curricular activities and athletics.

The Board of Education has asked for a  budget of $77.2 million, a 7.16 percent increase. 
Mayor Daniel Drew has proposed a budget of $75.55 million. Last year, Mayor Drew raised taxes 3.8%, and this year he is proposing an increase of 3.3%.

Teachers stated that the budget increase was in part due to the lack of full state reimbursement for tuition for students attending magnate schools, a burden that the district must cover. The new common core curriculum materials were also a burden on the budget that was not being fully reimbursed by state funding as well as new state testing now done by students via computer.Teachers stated they had not had a raise in a number of years, and that possible layoffs were in the midst if budget cuts had to be made. Teacher Tim Walzak pointed out that he and 21 of the teachers who had been given pink slips- the least tenured- were in the audience.Pink slips were given to non tenured teachers, but Charles stated to media not all would necessarily be dismissed. 

Parent Brian Kaskel, a parent from Bielefield spoke of closing the achievement gap with more funding, but was sympathetic to the difficulty the board faced in meeting all the needs. He stressed that the budget was fair and not asking for "anything fancy" above necessary items foster the growth of children. Parent and wife of BOE member Ed McKeon, Lucy McMillan spoke in favor of the fully funded budget stating it was partyl because she said it was important for her Middletown's schools to be number one in the state.

30 year veteran teacher Kip Harris, a teacher at Woodrow Wilson Middle, praised the new superintendent Charles, and the new attitude adopted by the Board of Education in the recent year. Harris said: " We are no longer playing with the farm team. We have the A team now."

Other teachers, such as Middletown resident Trevor Charles, and son of Superintendent Pat Charles, spoke on behalf of sports.Charles stated he left a teaching position in New York to specifically work in his hometown of Middletown because of the extracurricular activities he wanted to be involved in. He and his wife are both teachers in the Middletown public school system. He stated he and other teachers as well as students got great fulfillment from playing sports. Charles coaches several teams including ultimate Frisbee.

Charles stated that the stipend for coaches could be cut if not funded. "Having students in a class room 55 minutes a day is not enough; I really connect with them more as a coach during long practices." said Charles.

Student Gregory Gaylord spoke on how the sports program improved his life. Gaylord's father Marco Gaylord, Director of Arts and Music Education was in the audience, but did not speak. At the All City Music Festival held last weekend, Marco Gaylord made also plea to the audience to be in favor of the full budget proposed by Charles.

The City allocates the money given to the Board of Education, however, has no control over how it is spent.  Last election cycle, prior to the dismissal of Superintendent Michael Frechette and the $1 million budget deficit scandal, voters plead for line item transparent budgets to be given by the board of education.

State statute mandates that all budgets be funded by the previous benchmark or higher. The Common Council or Mayor has no jurisdiction (state statute) on how the money slated for the Board of Education is spent. The BOE does not have to produce a line item budget by law; however many BOE's across the state choose to make this process transparent.

Milford - similar in size to Middletown, has a 125 page budget line item budget for its department of education on its city website. Middletown has a roughly 40 page budget summary, much of which is photographs of students and philosophical statements on the city website, with some line items shown. 

At public meetings of the board of education, new superintendent Patricia Charles gave detailed powerpoint presentations explaining the need for funding and areas where money would be spent; this point was brought up at last night's public hearing by several speakers as an improvement to how past administrations had handled this.

The Common Council meets on  May 15 to vote on the proposed budget as a whole. Council Majority Leader Tom Serra stated he would be caucusing with the Democrats on the Council to vet the budget. Serra's son Jason Serra is coach at Middletown High School.

Minority Leader Republican Phil Pessina said " I will be meeting with the four republicans to go over the budget and give suggestions to the majority council members at the meeting"

Last year, the Republican council members set a precedent and presented an alternative budget to the one proposed by the Mayor. Council members Phil Pessina and Deputy Minority Leader Joe Bibisi then voted against the budget they presented, giving bi-partisan support to Mayor Drew's  budget which increased taxes by 3.8%. That budget passed 10-2 with Republican Councilmembers Linda Salafia and Deborah Kleckowski being the dissenting votes.

Editor Amendment: Teacher Trevor Charles is not Teachers Union President, teacher Kevin Doran is president. Both spoke at the public hearing. Out apologies for the misinformation.

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