Amidst budget concerns, BOE broaches lay-offs

By LISA CAPOBIANCO

STAFF WRITER

After non-tenured educators were informed about the possibility of losing their positions due to budget challenges, school officials postponed issuing notices until they meet with the Board of Finance

During a special meeting last Wednesday, the Board of Education voted 5 to 4 to postpone authorizing the Superintendent to notify over 100 non-tenured teachers and administrators that their contracts are subject to non-renewal due to budgetary constraints. All of their names were read aloud during the meeting. state law requires local school boards to notify non-tenured teachers by May 1 about the possibility of losing their positions if a district makes staff reductions.

Last Tuesday before the board held its special meeting, Bristol Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ellen Solek and Director of Human Resources Sam Galloway met with non-tenured staff to explain the details of this procedure. The step to not renew contracts had not happened in Bristol since 2012.

“Many districts do issue non-renewal statements as part of their process,” said Galloway. “Some districts engage in this activity on an annual basis, particularly larger, urban districts where a budget uncertainty has occurred year to year,” said Solek.

Solek added that some non-tenured staff members are rehired after the board passes its budget.

“Non-tenured teachers often receive a notice of non-renewal, and then are hired back on or before the beginning of the following school year,” said Solek. “In no way shape or form is this recommendation…wishing to shorten or to lessen our staffing. It’s a consideration that’s made in light of budget uncertainty.”

The board recently voted 6 to 3 approve a proposed FY 18 budget of $114,422,339, which represents an increase of $6,676,009 or 7.04 percent over the current budget. The proposed budget contains no new programs or staffing.

After a special budget workshop held last month,  the board requested Solek and the district leadership team to create a list of proposed reductions to get the spending request down to a 3 percent increase. The list included possible cuts to teaching and administrative positions, as well as the closing of Bristol Preparatory Academy.

The majority of board commissioners then decided to move ahead with a requested budget increase of 7.04 percent after reviewing these possible cuts.

“Getting a budget down to approximately 3 percent entails a reduction of about 30 staff members,” said Solek.

Board Commissioner Jeff Caggiano made a motion to postpone sending out notices to non-tenured staff members until after the board presents its proposed budget to the Board of Finance. The board was scheduled to present its proposed budget to the Board of Finance on Monday (April 3)—two days before its regular monthly meeting.

Caggiano said the board had a “clear desire” on March 4 to bring the requested budget increase down to 3 percent—a number that the Board of Finance recommended.

“We have more work that we can do,” said Caggiano. “I also think it’s unfair…to put forth this to our teachers and put them through the distress. I’m all for an increase in our budget—I just feel at this point, we’d be doing a disservice to the teachers of this city to make this vote right now.”

Board Commissioner David Scott agreed.

“We haven’t even gone in front of the Board of Finance,” said Scott, noting that the board has not spent enough time working out solutions. “We should defer to wait—to find out what we need to do.”

“It would have been in good discretion for us as a board to not have put this forth until we met with the Board of Finance,” said Board Commissioner Jen Dube, who also supported postponing the non-renewal notices.

Board Commissioner Tom O’Brien, who voted against Caggiano’s motion, said delaying the non-renewal notices does not make sense.

“Everyone knows the process. At this point, delaying it will make no difference because we still have to send out the notices to everyone,” said O’Brien. “As much as we all aren’t happy about this, we are realistic.”

Board Commissioner Tina Taylor, who also voted against Caggiano’s motion, said postponing the non-renewal notices does not relieve any stress for the non-tenured educators.

“It’s actually postponing the stress,” said Taylor.

During the meeting, several members of the public spoke before the board, including City Councilor Anthony D’Amato who asked school officials if they looked at any other staff members other than teachers to lay off first.

“Have we taken a look at all the departments within the Board of Education,” D’Amato asked the board. “The teacher is the most important person in a student’s life.”

“Figure out your budget before you do all of this,” added Republican City Council Candidate for the 2nd District Andrew Howe, who also addressed the board.

Board of Finance Chairperson Cheryl Thibeault said a lot of angst could have been avoided if school officials had their initial budget hearing with the city first before considering non-renewal notices for non-tenured educators.

Thibeault also noted how the budget process launched a month earlier (October) to allow city departments more time to plan, as budget challenges continue at the state level.

The Board of Education was originally scheduled to present the proposed school to the Board of Finance last month.

“At the request of the Board of Education, we were asked to postpone, to allow more time to put together materials,” said Thibeault, urging the board to come prepared during its budget presentation on Monday. “The goal of the hearing is to work collectively, to seek ways we can, together, find ways to cut the budget.”

Although she initially disagreed with Caggiano’s motion, Board of Education Vice Chairperson Karen Vibert decided to support postponing the nonrenewal notices after hearing Thibeault’s comments about working together.

“Maybe we can make something better happen this time,” said Vibert. “Maybe we can get we need to move our schools forward in the direction they need to be, and that’s what I heard.”

“This is very difficult for a future teacher to… make a decision like this,” added Board Commissioner Joe Grabowski. “But we have budget issues.”

Board Commissioner Karen Hintz voted against postponing the motion, noting how doing so would inflict harm twice on the non-tenured educators.

“I don’t want to rip this band aid off again,” said Hintz.

“Waiting isn’t going to provide us any different information,” added Board of Education Chairperson Chris Wilson, who also voted against postponing the motion.  XXXXXXXXXXXX