Bad Perceptions

At our Committee meetings on Monday, it became apparent that the Board of Education and Central Office have a serious perception problem to overcome.

The July RTM meeting was supposed to be a light one—in fact, we were hoping to do a Committee Meeting of the Whole prior to the our meeting on the 24th to give us a break. The Call, though, kept growing with various items requiring our attention and action.

So, Monday night I ducked out of the heat and headed over to Town Hall. Fortunately, we were meeting in combined committees to save our presenters some wear and tear, since a mere 3 members of the Finance Committee were present.

We worked our way through the items, most of which merited some questioning and consideration but the one that derailed us involved the schools. Back during the budget process, there was a bonding request for $300,000 in order to buy technology for the schools and the town. Despite being told for the previous two budget cycles that the RTM disliked routine items such as buying technology being bonded, here it was again. So, rather than vote on the substance, the RTM rejected the bonding request, sending a signal.

The request was trimmed to $260,000 and was resubmitted to the Board of Finance. They extracted a promise from First Selectman Flatto and Superintendent Clark that this would never, ever be bonded again. To sure his sincerity, Ken drafted and issued a new policy on what should and should not be bonded going forward. Still, we were being asked to approve this one last bonding request so the schools won’t fall further behind.

Once we got done quizzing people on the merits of bonding, we got to the substance of the request. A little more than half the money would go to schools, fulfilling only half of their original technology request with the remainder going to the town which is also behind on its hardware and software needs.

It became clear that the majority of the RTM is convinced the Schools play fast and loose with their money and if they really wanted to, could find the spare cash within their existing budget. After all, now that the current fiscal year has closed, it turns out there was plenty of cash leftover which got transferred from account to account to balance the accounts that actually came up short.

I fear the matter will be shot down next Monday, not because anyone wants to short-change the teachers or students, but because they feel the school side has drained more than enough taxpayer money over the last few years. The Board pleads poverty every year but always manages to find the money they need for things important to them – or that is what the RTM thinks. Whatever the reality, the Superintendent has a lot of fence mending to do between now and next Spring.

Forget that if the bonding issue is shot down again school will come back next year with a huge request to “catch up” making next year’s budget fatter or that the town will get screwed in the process. This debate alone should prolong the night’s meeting.

At least the Committee night ended on a positive note as the wonderful Julie DeMarco showed me a ton of research she had done for our Ordnance Committee, which will have its first organizational meeting mere moments after the RTM meeting adjourns next week.