School Board Postpones Budget Decisions

While it was made it clear no decisions would be made on the Board of Education's budget until it passes referendum, Chair Debbie Leidlein asked her board at its meeting on Tuesday, May 1, to decide what information it would like the district to provide before decisions are made.

The school board also discussed recent meetings with St Rose of Lima and Hawley Elementary School community members regarding proposed transportation changes for the 2012-13 school year that could result in St Rose students sharing buses with Reed Intermediate School students and Hawley Elementary School students attending school at a later time. (To read more on both meetings, see the related stories in this week's Bee.)

The school board typically finalizes its budget once it has passed town referendum, and before that happens, school board member Keith Alexander said he would like full information regarding implementing full-day kindergarten; member John Vouros said he would like to know all legal costs the district is incurring, all information regarding transportation concerns in the district, and more; Vice Chair Laura Roche and Ms Leidlein also wanted further information regarding possible changes to transportation in the district, and more.

Mr Vouros promised members of the public present at the meeting that the school board is working dutifully to get information regarding the transportation issues, and said he would make sure that information is distributed to the public.

"If I understand it, then all of you will understand it," said Mr Vouros.

Some members of the public voiced concerns over the possible transportation changes.

In recent weeks All-Star Transportation of Torrington announced three possible scenarios for providing routing in Newtown for the 2012-13 school year, its first contracted year with the school district.

On Monday, April 30, at a meeting with Hawley Elementary School parents, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson said due to recent cuts to the Board of Education's requested budget, a second scenario provided by All-Star is, most likely, the reasonable choice. That scenario would combine bus routes for St Rose of Lima School with Reed Intermediate School, and align all elementary schools in the district to start at the same time, to be determined, which would likely have Hawley, which starts about 45 minutes before the other elementary schools, starting its day later than it currently does. The scenarios have yet to be presented to the school board for a decision.

Reed Intermediate School fifth grade student Andrew Gardner questioned why the Board of Education chose to award All-Star Transportation the five-year contract for regular education routes in town over Newtown's current providers, owner-operators who individually own and operate their own buses. If the contract goes forward, Andrew said his heart will be broken. He has had the same bus driver since he started his school career, and that bus driver, "has not missed one day of school."

"It's not fair to drive these guys out of business," said the fifth grader, who also questioned what will happen to the mother of one of his classmates who is also an owner-operator.

Andrew said he does not agree, not one bit, with the school board's action, made in October.

"In this economy it is almost impossible to find a job," said Andrew, who became emotional while speaking.

Michelle Assante, who attended the meeting at Hawley the night before, questioned why the elementary school bus runs had not been looked into as running earlier in the morning, more like Hawley's timing, rather than the other elementary schools. She also asked what the cost would be to do that, and questioned the process used to reduce the number of buses needed in the district between the submission of bids and now.

Due to timing for the routes for the high school and middle school, Ms Leidlein said it would not be possible to have the elementary schools start earlier in the morning without adding more buses to Newtown's fleet, and said the contract specifies a daily rate, not the number of buses used in the district.

As a St Rose of Lima parent, Jennifer Simms said she is concerned the possible transportation changes could have Reed fifth and sixth graders riding a bus with younger St Rose of Lima students. Later in the evening, Ms Simms also said there would most likely be a greater number of Reed students on the buses than St Rose students. She additionally voiced concern about what the St Rose students would be exposed to through the Reed students' language.

After mentioning a number of other concerns and questions for the board, resident Kinga Walsh spoke to the possible combination of St Rose of Lima bus routes with Reed Intermediate School, where her youngest child will attend fifth grade next school year. Her daughter, Ms Walsh said, will be getting on a bus with older St Rose students, but she also knows those students are her daughter's neighbors and team members on sports teams. While Ms Walsh said she trusts her daughter will act appropriately, she asked the school board to remember that bullies can wear or not wear uniforms.

Ms Walsh also asked the school board to make it clear to the public that recent cuts to the school board's requested budget will have the district roughly $423,000 below the amount needed to keep the same services as the current fiscal year.

"I'm very worried about where this money is going to come from," said Ms Walsh.

Also during the meeting, the school board voted to hire a consultant to assist in evaluating the superintendent for her yearly review, voted to award a contract for providing copiers in the district, and more.

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