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Discusses Bus Contract, Finance System-School Board Hires New Head O' Meadow Principal



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Discusses Bus Contract, Finance System—

School Board Hires New Head O’ Meadow Principal

By Eliza Hallabeck

Following the retirement of Head O’ Meadow principal Bill Bircher, the Board of Education this week named Sandy Hook School Assistant Principal Barbara Gasparine to the position.

The school board also discussed combining town and school services and the privately contracted owner/operator bus driver negotiations, which concluded in May.

On Wednesday, Ms Gasparine said being named as the new principal at Head O’ Meadow was a “dream come true.”

She has been acting as interim principal at Head O’ Meadow for the past couple of weeks, since Mr Bircher’s departure, and said she has met many new people. Ms Gasparine said she feels honored and privileged to have earned the title as new principal, and cannot wait for students to enter the school for the start of the 2010-2011 school year.

Further coverage on Ms Gasparine, her time at Sandy Hook School, and what she expects from her new position will appear in next week’s print edition of The Bee.

Before Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson gave her Superintendent’s Report, Board of Education Chair Lillian Bittman asked her to review staff positions removed and saved in the 2010-2011 budget.

“People don’t seem to be clearly aware of the positions that were lost,” said Dr Robinson.

 She listed seven full-time and two part-time certified staff positions, three full-time noncertified positions, and 20 education assistant hours. In addition, two administrators retired, one transferred to another district, 13 classroom teachers retired, and 14 classroom teachers were resigned.

“The fact that we have been able to place some of the teachers on the layoff list is due to those resignations and retirements,” Dr Robinson said.

At the start of the budget season, cutting 20 positions from the budget was a real possibility, according to Dr Robinson, adding later that Newtown has lost several people to higher-paying districts in the area.

More On Bus Contract Talks

After adding discussion on the school board’s May decision to end negotiations with the owner/operator bus drivers to the agenda earlier in the meeting, in response to a Bee article posted online last week and in print in this edition of The Bee, Mr Nanavaty said part of the story was left out.

“The Newtown Bee was reporting that I, as the lead negotiator for the school board, walked away from negotiations with the owner/operators contract, walked away from negotiations before the end of the 2009-2010 fiscal year, leaving the owner/operators last best offer on the table,” said Mr Nanavaty.

Mr Nanavaty said he wanted to know The Bee’s sources before fully responding, in order to understand where the information was coming from. An email response from Mr Nanavaty along the same lines was added to story online, and was the only response to inquiries on the subject before the school board’s Tuesday meeting.

In reviewing the school board’s meeting minutes from May 18, which Mr Nanavaty said he requested The Bee do the same and are available at www.newtown.k12.ct.us, Mr Nanavaty read from his own statements from May 18, “if we could see substantial savings” he would agree. “$193,000 is not substantial and is only in the first year. We put a number of proposals to them. We asked them to take the current MTM contract rates. We recognized that they are a $368 per day rate now. To achieve a total five-year contract with marketable rates we would revise our offer and give them a slight reduction in the first year and they go down another reduction in the second and third years. They came back with a proposal that the board pay the fuel. All of the offers we made we saw savings of close to $400,000 in the first two years. If we went out with an [request for proposal] the next year or so we would get a more advantageous rate.”

School Board Vice Chair Kathy Fetchick said to her knowledge MTM does not pay for its own fuel, and if any possible savings could be found in the contract, it should have been used.

“It’s not untrue that we would save $400,000 in the first two years,” said Ms Fetchick.

Discussion between Mr Nanavaty and Ms Fetchick ensued, and he said it was inappropriate for a school board member to not uphold a decision made by the school board in public.

Ms Fetchick disagreed, but Mr Nanavaty said saying $400,000 in savings could be found was misinforming the public.

“I will have an open door if they wish to negotiate,” said Dr Robinson, revoicing sentiments Ms Bittman said in May.

Merging Finance Systems

Meeting after the Board of Finance and Legislative Council both supported integrating town and education finance and accounting systems, the school board directed Dr Robinson and Director of Business Ron Bienkowski to move forward in talks with First Selectman Pat Llodra and Finance Director Bob Tait on combining town and school services and systems.

There was some confusion among the school board members to the reasons behind the initiative.

Dr Robinson said she missed attending the Legislative Council’s meeting when the subject was brought up due to missing an email, but she did attend the Board of Finance’s June 24 meeting when the initiative was brought up. Dr Robinson said she was not given the option to voice her thoughts on the subject during that meeting.

In some areas, like between town and school facilities, Dr Robinson said there is already a history of collaborative work, and “in some cases you shouldn’t muck it up.”

Board of Ed member William Hart said he questioned the amount of potential savings from the initiative of combining school and town computer systems. Ms Fetchick said any savings that can be found should be looked into.

A motion to have Dr Robinson and Mr Bienkowski work with the town on the process was tabled after discussion, and the school board directed both to do so on their own.

After the public session of the meeting concluded, the school board moved into executive session around 10:30 pm to evaluate the superintendent, discuss the superintendent, assistant superintendent and business director’s contracts, and discuss possible action on nonunion salaries.

Nearly three hours later, the school board returned from executive session and voted unanimously to renew Dr Robinson’s contract from July 1 through June 30, 2013, with a zero percent, no performance stipend, but returned 5.12 previously furloughed days.

Other motions made increased Dr Robinson’s vacation time to six weeks per year, deferred action on Business Director Ron Bienkowski’s contract for 90 days, and renewed Assistant Superintendent Linda Gejda’s contract through 2013 with a one percent increase in salary and a return of 5.11 previously furloughed days.

Ms Fetchick also directed Dr Robinson to add a discussion regarding the procedure of salary rates for nonunion central office staff to the agenda for the next Board of Education meeting in August, according to Board of Education Secretary Debbie Leidlein.

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