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BOE Votes 4-3 on 2.86 Percent Spending Increase

Board of Ed restores funding and sends 2012-13 budget to First Selectman.

The Brookfield Board of Education (BOE) approved a proposed $37,185,545 budget that would increase spending by 2.86 percent, add more teachers at the elementary schools through the reallocation of existing positions and some additional funding, while also restoring money for paraprofessionals and remedial reading instructors, which .

“Parents expect us to provide a quality education,” BOE Vice Chairman Jane Miller said Wednesday in voting for the package, which is slightly higher than the 2.76 percent spending hike that .

BOE Chairman Ray DiStephan voted against the package, indicating that he supported another of the four scenarios provided by the administration, which would have only increased spending by 2.74 percent.

However, he said he was comfortable with the adopted plan, noting that it is only $46,000 higher than the plan he supported.

BOE member Harry Shaker said he favored a 2.48 percent spending increase, indicating that to get approved in May at referendum, the budget would need to carry a hike of less than 2.7 percent.

The adopted package was approved 4-3, with Miller, Scott McCarthy, Victor Katz and Paul Checco supporting it and BOE Secretary Susan Queenan, Shaker and DiStephan voting in opposition.

The plan includes an additional kindergarten teacher at (CES), which should lower class sizes to 18 students per teacher as the district starts its next August. There also will be extended time for monitors at CES.

Under the proposal, the school district would add a fourth grade teacher at (HHES) and reallocate a teacher from (WMS) to HHES and restore the two remedial reading teachers that the BOE had considered eliminating.

School administrators have said the additional teachers at HHES should bring the average classroom sizes to the BOE’s guidelines or at least close to meeting that standard.

“Getting the class sizes down at Huckleberry has long been an issue,” DiStephan said.

The BOE also decided to restore the full-time equivalent of 5.67 paraprofessional positions that had been proposed for elimination since federal funds to pay for them will expire in June.

Tim Riddle, the president of the paraprofessionals bargaining unit, told the BOE during public comment that the loss of the 5.67 positions “will have an impact on kids.”

“The paraprofessionals are part of the classroom team,” said Olga Weitzman, who, like Riddle, is a paraprofessional at WMS.

“We are the first line of defense,” she added.

Bivona said the paraprofessionals are “dedicated educators” and that his proposal to eliminate the positions wasn’t “devaluing” them.

He said he was attempting to “balance the budget the best we could.”

Bivona said over the recent years the district had eliminated 14 teaching positions and only seven paraprofessional positions.

DiStephan said in an interview after the meeting that he believed the BOE restored the positions because the members believe “that they impact” students.

Riddle said his members will speak to the Board of Finance (BOF) as it considers the proposed municipal budget this spring.

“We’re going to leave no stone unturned to get it done,” he said.

The BOE’s proposal also includes a maintenance mechanic, a new position that would be responsible for heating and ventilation issues and other maintenance related to the school buildings.

DiStephan has said he believes it would be better to have a staff person address those issues instead of outsourcing the work.

The BOE was able to restore some proposed reductions and keep the spending increase under 2.9 percent by lowering a variety of line items, including coaches, postage and leases on photocopying machines.

The BOE’s proposed budget will be sent by January 31 to First Selectman Bill Davidson, who is expected to present his proposed municipal budget to the Board of Selectmen (BOS) by February 15.

The BOS will then adopt its recommended plan and send it to the BOF by March 1.

DiStephan said the BOE’s proposed 2.86 percent increase is comparable to what several other similar districts are recommending.

“Now we have to let everybody know that we think this is a reasonable budget in regards to the kids and the homeowners,” he said.

Brookfield is undergoing a revaluation of property values, which, generally speaking, have declined as a result of the economic recession.

“I believe that dollars spent on schools have a return to every homeowner,” DiStephan said. “I think it’s a very sound investment.”

Rob Gianazza January 20, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Have you asked Mr. Colley about this? I believe he negotiated a better deal for the District. I can't follow the rest of your song, the notes and the lyrics don't seem to match. That different drummer you listen to is off-key....
Victor Katz January 21, 2012 at 01:38 AM
It is interesting how some folks can with ease talk about a no increase or a zero % budget. If the BOE were to adopt a budget without ANY changes whatsoever to the services provided to our kids and just continue as is, then the increase to the 2012/2013 budget would amount to 2.11% - this is a fact as this specific figure was determined as per the BOE request. Significant increases in diesel, oil, health insurance, etc are the major drivers of this budget aspect. Even with the recent savings realized from the teachers contract, there are still contractual increases from the remaining unions in our district. We all know this because we all are faced with the same increase when we stop at a local gas station or get a delivery from the local oil company or see the increase in our personal health insurance company, the list goes on. Why are we not demanding the same consideration from them? Don't they know that we, their customers, are going through very tough economic times? Well, the same applies to every school district in this country.
Victor Katz January 21, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Now let's consider a zero budget. Essentially this means a guaranteed  reduction in services, teachers, support staff, etc, etc... This translates to a direct and a detrimental impact to the kids in Brookfield. A complete reversal in the progress that has been made in the last decade in terms of quality of education. I am not sure exactly how the parents in this town would react to anyone suggesting something like that, but I would venture to say it would not be pleasant. So the BOE is asking for 0.75% more than the status quo in order to move the district forward and ensure our kids get the best education we can provide, while remaining cognizant of the  economic climate. I would like to challenge anyone who is talking about a zero budget to show a concrete plan that can achieve that with a zero negative impact to our kids. Until then please stop suggesting what the BOE and the Administration can or can not understand.
Dr. Robin Appleby January 21, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Many, many people in Brookfield believe that the ever rising taxes are forcing them from their homes. What do we say to them ?
Steven DeVaux January 21, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Dr. Appleby, The elected Brookfield Board of Educatin is apparently not capable of executing the office to which they were elected. They can't figure out how to manage a budget that worked this year, next year. They claim they already locked in the increased costs years ago and people just need to pay it now. They "challenge" people to do their thinking for them as they are incapable of creatively dealing with a half decade of joblessness, frozen salaries and contraction despite a declining enrollment the entire time. Other district are closing schools and they refuse to consider closing Center School to lower the Board of Education operating costs and cafefully condensing, reorganizing and redeploying the assets the community has entrusted them with. Instead they ask for ideas then tell people they can't and why. Apologists for the Superintendents apparent inability to communicate with the towns finance office. Give them the same funds you did this year. Don't cut them down to the lower enrollement they have. That's a built in increase and they should be able to manage that. After all, isn't that what they ran for to be elected? To govern the schools as state, not town, officials? You owe them no answers or discussion. That is withing their domain. They tell you that all the time anyway when it suits their purpose. Let them come up with the plan on how they will or resign and let others do it who can. That's the way the system is supposed to work.
Steven DeVaux January 21, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Rob, A better deal? I can assure you if you understood the propgram, there is no way on price alone any district could even begin to come to the saving they guarantee...and without buying a dime in equipment. And they have been successful in hundreds of districts. If Mr. Colley is incapable of doing due diligence on containing the energy costs of the Brookfield Board of Education, perhaps it's time for someone else to step in instead of simply handing the taxpayers the bill for his inabilities to contain costs.
Victor Katz January 21, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Hi Dr. Appleby. I am not sure how to quantify "many people" at this point of time, however I can tell you that over 2800 kids will be affected with a zero budget. What do we say to them and their parents?
Steven DeVaux January 21, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Robin, What do you tell the over 3,000 senior citizen in town?
Rob Gianazza January 21, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Steve, I have seen Mr. Colley perform his due diligence. Have you contacted Mr. Colley directly about this concern? It will most likely be him who is explaining to you why this is not the best option for the Brookfield School District. He has a proven record of saving the District thousands of dollars during his tenure as Business Manager. Your libelous comment is deserving of an apology to Mr. Colley.
Steven DeVaux January 21, 2012 at 05:32 PM
Rob, It's the superintendent's job to hold Mr. Colley accountable. I can factually back up what I said which you are aware is the basis of liable. Perhaps our town's elected leaders can query him and the Energy Education people at the same time and see all the research he's done on them in the last 10 years it's been questioned as to why Brookfield doesn't participate in something that has a guarantee with no money up front for equipment.
Longtime Brookfield resident January 22, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I agree with Dr Appleby, and how can someone quantify that ZERO increase will effect 2800 students - I find it hard to imagine that 2.8% can impact that many students. I am not saying it will be easy but we need to challenge our BOE to try. What we say to everyone is that we need to find the best answer for ALL - the ones that can afford , the ones that cant afford . Anyone associated with any budget process knows that there is always a way to find a way forward. We just need to find the way. I believe we have a solid BOE in place and they will find a creative way to help reduce for those who have not had any increases in pay in years in fact many have been decreased
Longtime Brookfield resident January 22, 2012 at 03:15 PM
The increase represents $380 per student - Impact ?
Victor Katz January 22, 2012 at 03:56 PM
LBR, I feel like I need to add a point of clarification here in terms of the Budget approval process. The BOE has been working on the Budget since late last calendar year. During this time the BOE has gone through various scenarios and scrutinized the budget down to the line item detail. At the BOE meeting last week the Budget was adopted and now it's up to the First Selectman, BOS and subsequently the Board of Finance to review it, make changes (if so inclined) and put it forth to a Town Meeting and lastly a Town Referendum vote. While the BOE is always seeking feedback from the community via all channels available (Patch is no exception), at this point it's out of the hands of the BOE so to speak. At this moment the only entities that can influence the actual Budget % are the BOS and the BOF.
Ryen January 22, 2012 at 04:22 PM
@R_DiStephan: First of all, I'm referring to educational bureaucracy--not just teachers specifically. Teachers are victims of greedy state & national union also. Many teachers (especially young teachers) don't realize the teacher propaganda (and YES, it is propaganda if you have ever seen a teachers' union newsletter or national campaign) perpetrated by the teachers' union--that they (and WE) also pay for. Teachers' unions should be banned & illegal--the breaches of ethical standards & conflicts of interest are too long to list here! And you perpetrate a LIE, in the strict sense, by constantly talking about 0% INCREASES; first of all, there's no such thing as "0%" when it comes to education & government budgets--LOOK at the existing DEBT & look at the HISTORICAL record of increases! Claiming 0% ANYTHING in a government budget is NONSENSE! Wake UP! Then you claim that the teacher's benefit package is "saving us money"??! I was born at night--but not last night! ;) How do you perpetuate lies like that(in the strict sense)?? SOME teachers (NOT all) work very hard for 182 days a year (there are 365 total days in a year)--some not only do not work hard, but damage children & damage students through poor practices--& I have SPECIFIC examples by the HUNDREDS & more. THAT's FACT. Don't take ONE system with SOME good programs & SOME good teachers & try to make the whole district "golden" by extension--that is dishonest. (to be continued in next sagment)
Ryen January 22, 2012 at 04:25 PM
(this reply is continued from below--previous post) And so: Your last statement about "teachers taking a certain contract" proves MY point about the problem, not yours--talking about "under 3%" in this day and age shows a quality of being "out of touch with reality" and perhaps being snowed by government debt and budget talks for too long. Where will it stop?? You are paying people's income and benefits that have been gone for decades--and you are still talking about "under 3%" PLEASE stop the INSANITY!!!! I rest my case (for now) with a repeat of my original statement: who amongst you is expecting or used to 3% INCREASES in your budget, organization, salary, benefits, programs, etc. year after year after year after year????
Victor Katz January 22, 2012 at 04:27 PM
As far as being able to quantify the impact of a ZERO budget on 2800 + students. As I stated earlier, a maintenance budget alone translates into a 2.11% - never mind anything else. With a ZERO budget, the 2.11% is then gone which amounts close to $800,000, which is the amount required in order to move along AS IS. Again, this is driven by a double-digit increase in health insurance costs, fuel, oil, loss of state grants, etc - all things that we can relate to on a personal level. Such a significant loss of funding would absolutely mean loss of staff in some way shape or form. The impact is: increased class sizes, especially in lower grades, reduction of services, and so on. I hope you can see why I made that comment.
Ryen January 22, 2012 at 04:32 PM
BINGO! YES! Kindergarten teachers (working even less days a year than middle school teachers) getting paid $58,000 and up to $80,000 a year--to teach kindergarten and first grade? And to be a union puppet and run scared to the administration every time a parent askes them a hard question?? LUDICROUS!! It is sad where we have gone with education--and how fewer and fewer teachers that actually love learning and love children's growth are going into teaching....it has all become about chasing dollars and benefit packages...to heck with the local residents....and the kids are babied also....and not just by the teachers....
Ryen January 22, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Why does Mr. DiStephan and the district constantly talk about "new standards" and "new programs" and "new curriculum" if the district is so successful in education?? What is the "new" stuff--be specific please? It is all technology--what else is it? It is not fixing the facilities. Waalk around a few of the schools--the town can't keep the parking lots and playground equipment in repair!!!!!!!!! And the school administration does nothing about it! Do I want decent recreational equipment that actually stands up and works (for ALL kids) at recess--or new technology? I KNOW you are not going to claim that the district is EFFEICIENT and EFFECTIVE in getting construction and facilities work done--do we need to go back to the high school FIASCO? How efficient was THAT, Mr. DiStephan???? Fix your own SIMPLE HOUSE before y ou start perpetrating lies about "under 3%" and how thrifty our administrator salaries are! PLEEEAAASE! ;)
Ryen January 22, 2012 at 04:46 PM
You are KIDDING me, right Jennifer? You REALLY think that people (such as myself and MANY others) do NOT think that Brookfield has good schools or that parents should want to educate their children in Brookfield??? You MUST be kidding me, right? You actually have yourself (and some of the extreme parents who do not know ANYTHING about education, budgets, or the state of our country) believing that a person such as myself does not value education for my children? That is a DELUSION perpetrated by people who actually are only concewrned about their own kids in the short-term and have no broader context to apply here.... This issue oof public education and public education spending is SO much more serious than a Curriculum Leader and a full-day kindergarten. Tell me, do more towns in Connecticut have full day or part day kidergartens Jennifer? Just interested in how broad your perspective and knowledge is on these issues, or if you only live inside the Brookfield "small pond"?
Longtime Brookfield resident January 23, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Mr Katz- I agree with you I missed boat and am a little late to the party. I need to start my discussions earlier so yes this is my fault. As for your statement then I can live with the 2.11 % increase and move us a long and get creative for the remaining % - However the things you mention for the drivers of these expenses happen to EVERY household and like we have all stated they dont get a CHOICE on thier ZERO percent raises and have to keep thier houses a float wuth the same finances form years past - NO increase - How can we add more burden to these already underwater community memebers - do we hand them a lead weight or try to hand them a life preserver. Thats all. I still feel in my heart and soul that there is a way to remove more form this budget without MAJOR impact to our children.
Concerned Brookfield Citizen January 23, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Good question. Do you have any detailed suggestions or are you just going to point out the generalized issues? Regarding the impact on our children, what type of MINOR impacts would you claim are acceptable? Times are tough on the parents. That is true. But a child has only one chance at second grade. The lost educational opportunity can only be made up in the future at the expense of the time to teach other, new material.
Steven DeVaux January 23, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Consider this, More than 3,000 people getting social security in Brookfield got a 0% increase in the last few years. They re-prioritized and managed. On top of that, they got tax increases, something the Board of Education is not getting because it doesn't pay tax. What's wrong with that picture? And there are many, many more who are working and either were laid off, got a salary freeze or got a salary cut. What of them? Is the Board of Education holding the kids as economic hostages?
Ray DiStephan January 23, 2012 at 02:59 PM
This has been a fairly busy thread since my last post. I will say that there have been some good ideas and good questions that I will continue to follow-up on. However, some of the personal attacks including accusations of being dishonest, incompetent, or simply uncaring for community members are not appreciated. I welcome the questions from people who I may ultimately disagree with, like LBR. But LBR engages in honest discourse and seems to be interested in what is best for all of Brookfield. I can respect that. Unfortunately, others would rather focus on attacking the efforts of the volunteers that serve on the BOE and make this personal. I generally make a practice of not engaging these conversations, although I am human and get drawn in on occasion. However, I generally like to point out some facts that may come up in any comments: (Continued)
Ray DiStephan January 23, 2012 at 03:01 PM
FACT - Our budget increases for the past 4 years - through 2011-12 - have been: 2008-091.24% 2009-10-0.26% 2010-114.15% 2011-122.06% Total 7.19% Avg % - 1.80% FACT - With a growing elementary enrollment, closing CES is absolutely not an option. Other districts - such as Monroe and Ridgefield - are closing schools due to plummeting enrollments. A projected drop of 1% is not a plummet nor does it warrant the closing of a school. FACT - we have cut our staff by almost 34 FTE since 2004-05 in the BOE operating budget a reduction of 8.8%. At the same time, enrollment dropped by 9.2%. We have been continually cutting back where drops in enrollment warranted and allowed for such cuts.
Ray DiStephan January 23, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I made this point at our last meeting; cost per student is a bit of an illusion regarding enrollment reductions. For instance, we project about 30 less students next year. It would seem that you could multiply that by the cost per student dollar amount and come up with substantial savings. However, here is the real application: 30 students are spread over 13 grade levels (K-12). That is an average of 2-3 students per grade. So if we have about 9 or 10 sections per grade that is far less than one student per class. So, let’s say you have 22 students in a given class. Now let’s apply the enrollment reduction of 1 student in that class (most classes will not see this one student reduction). Now the class is 21. Well you still pay the teacher and his/her benefits at the same level, that student’s bus still uses the fuel to run that route, and it still costs the same to heat that class room, etc. There has been virtually NO COST SAVINGS as a result of that lower enrollment.
Ray DiStephan January 23, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Now if all 30 students were in one grade (they aren’t), then you can see a real cost savings through a teacher reduction and no longer needing to supply that classroom, etc. But this is not the case. I should also point out that the projected reduction in enrollment was off significantly. We ended up with considerably more students than was projected. FACT - The BHS project WAS NOT managed by the BOE or the administration.....the appointed Municipal Building Committee was charged with this task. I appreciate the economic climate and the struggles people are having in our community and country. I think we probably disagree on how we got here and what needs to be done to fix things. But that being said, the BOE tried to come up with a compromise to accommodate all. To some extent, I think the best compromise is one where nobody is completely satisfied with the results. We may have that here.
Ray DiStephan January 23, 2012 at 03:02 PM
As to a 0% increase, we are talking about a $1million dollar reduction in the proposed budget – the vast majority of which is to simply maintain what we currently have. The idea that there would not be significant teacher cuts and significant student impact is simply a pipe dream. Support a 0% if you want to, but don’t fool yourself into believing that the BOE will be able to figure out a way to make it work without significant impact. There will be and I don’t believe that is fair at all. Do I think increases are fair to people who are struggling? In terms of the school budget, if I didn’t believe it was as fair as it can be, I would not be supporting it. Finally, I enjoy these posts and the discussion, but I will not always be able to respond to each quickly. The BOE wants your continued input and you can access all 7 BOE members through our email: brookfieldboe@gmail.com Let’s keep the good discourse going.
Ray DiStephan January 23, 2012 at 03:03 PM
FACT - We have reduced electricity from a high of $788,084 to $570,000 in the 2011-12 budget, a reduction of over $218,000 - a 27.7% reduction, This is due to negotiating better rates through Constellation New Energy (for both the BOE and Town) and the completion of energy efficient lighting projects in all buildings and parking lots. With a rate reduction of 11% effective 6/1//2011, we anticipate further reductions in 2012-13. Regarding Education Energy – The BOE and the administration have never received any communication from anyone regarding this firm. The link is below. While they say they will save 20-30% off our utility bills, it requires the hiring of an Energy Education Specialist to coordinate the program. However, we will investigate further. But we have still controlled our costs exceptionally well. http://www.energyeducation.com/OurServices/tabid/58/Default.aspx
Longtime Brookfield resident January 23, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Ray- Thanks so much your points are well taken and show the work you and the board have put in. Many thanks for ll your efforts and especaily for your responses as you put in the extra work to make these posts. I think we all need to review your responses and if ANYONE has any suggestions for us ALL that may have been over looked or a new way of thinking please post. In the end I would love to see a reduction but will VOTE YES for our children in the end.
Steven DeVaux January 24, 2012 at 01:01 AM
CBC, I think that the impacts being felt by our seniors citizens, our long term unemployed and our under employed should all be shared equally with all municipal functions, both town and education. I don't think the second grade is going for varsity letters and judging from the increased absentee rate, it doesn't appear that the administrators are successfully engaging kids.

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