1. THE BOARD OF EDUCATION BUDGET:  And then Speak Up 2013, which this year served to introduce the Town side of the FY14 budget;
  3. SELECTMEN'S BUDGET (AFTER REVIEW OF FIRST SELECTMAN'S BUDGET 2-27-13):  On to the Board of Finance...


ELSEWHERE:  News reports around CT cities and towns.  The old issue of long range projections... and re-purposing buildings - example, New Hampshire.


FIFTEEN DOLLARS  PER VOTE (total budget for the Referendum divided by number who voted)
Since there couldn't be any further cuts to school budget, only the true believers in democracy showed up, some sprinting from the parking lot smartly to the polls to vote!!!

Budget passes in a "slam dunk"  @ 10-1 ratio "yes" to "no." 
Only 289 voted in Referendum:  80 voted after ATBM, 22 did absentee and 187 came to the WMS Gym.  FILL IN THE BALLOT:  Town 256-33, School 251-38, Capital 262-27












A long and philosophical discussion...

Which leads to a cut of $190,000 in a budget of requested $45 million - however, this actually is lower than last year.

Education establishment and PTO takes it in with a resigned look.  Perhaps because the Board of Finance was so respectfull of their budget making skills, perhaps because they and the Board of Education know how much is going to have to be spent on further "hardening" of the school campus post Sandy Hook.  And curiously, the Police Commission was no where to be seen - Sgt. Ferullo had been asked, I assume by the Board of Finance, to calculate the difference in the budget for 1 or 2 new officers - and the marginal savings were not there for the second.



Board of Finance on stage, listens to speakers after hearing from First Selectman and Vice-Chair. of the Board of Education

WMS cafeteria filled up more (this at @ 8pm) - missing "a" on sign noted afterward by Board of Finance, who were staring at it all evening...

Other than Police Commissioners (not shown), who asked for the Board of Finance to restore their budget to where it was before the First Selectman made the first cuts,  all school budget supporters spoke up for "resource officer" and an extra policemen. 

We did a head count of 100 plus late in the meeting (photo above right taken prior to 8pm) - standees later, but not because there weren't seats.

Enormous turnout in terms of % of those who spoke - most did who favored the budget.  Others who may not have did not speak, perhaps because there will be a Referendum automatically this year.  Discussion of mill rate/reassessment did not happen, (altho' I did ask a member of the Board of Fiknance after about this) but some serious questions about how long we can keep up the cost cutting...we note that there was a distinct coordination between pro-education budget folks and the Police Commission re:  support for SRO ("school resource officer") plus extra policeman - Police Commission directly requested the Board of Finance to reinstate the numbers from the Commission's original budget request to the First Selectman, back at the beginning of the budget process.  In addition, Police Commissioners of both Parties support this request.

Tonight the Board of Selectmen meets at 7pm for regular business (but 30 minutes earlier than usual) and the not-on-town-tv Board of Finance "deliberations" begin at 8pm in Town Hall Commission Room, according to the Town website this morning. 

Since there will be a Referendum this year as part of the new Charter, please be advised that you can vote in several different ways:  First, after ATBM on April 24, go to the high school library and check in and then fill out a ballot;  or, beginning Thursday, April 25, voters can get absentee ballots in Town Hall during business hours;  on May 2nd, from 12 noon to 8pm, you may vote that Thursday at WMS Gym.  When the polls close at 8pm, all votes will be counted.

Got that?


Board of Finance review of Selectmen's budget FY13-14 on Monday, March 11, 2013.  To be followed Tuesday by the Board of Education.
Safest place to be in Weston as the Police Department request for 3 new officiers was entertained with "a community of interest" in the audience.  We know this, because when the police item was completed, everyone left! 

Concern for next year's mill rate increase broached...
First Selectman discusses process and then highlights the "goals" of the budget, supported by town staff.

There were the usual concerns with the Volunteer Fire Department budget - but it was made clear that the Town of Weston does not support all of the Fire Dept. budget...
Below, left, Fire Department officials explain the relationship between their budget and the a member of the Board of Finance who questioned them.

And then the first shoe dropped regarding the budget effect of Sandy Hook...
Study of staffing at a higher base number of patrol officers re: overtime, the favorite issue for Boards of Finance thru the years.  To be continued with the Board of Education Tuesday night (which "About Town" will watch on Town TV).

Finance Board members wary...with reval expected to drop values by perhaps 20%...but after this November's coming local election!
How do the Westonites of 2013 respond to a Paul Revere-like alarm - "the British are coming" - in advance of technical reval, and yet have the taxpayers believe you?  And not think you are being more like a fairy tale Henny-Penny instead?  Which is the question brought up by Chairman of the Board of Education at "Speak Up 2013"  February 23rd...
we hesitate to quote him, but what we heard at one point was a remark that he couldn't have imagined not having aleady hit the end of the line when it came to increasing the education budget - yet somehow, through excellent budget controls, this was avoided so far...

And what would a finance discussion be without figuring out that we could save money on the back of Weston Library? 
Supporting the Police Commission request for more officers, after an expert spoke about how fortunate we are to have a school complex such as we do (all buildings on "The Mile of Safety") a citizen arose, who does not have children in Weston Public Schools, who supported the Police Department staff expansion.  She was advised after reading her statement, by the Finance Board Chairman, to come to their Public Hearing April 3, 2013 at 8pm in WMS and repeat her statement.

Previously in the Budget Process...

We watched on Vimeo Thursday, Feb. 27, 2013, almost immediately (Town got it up lickity-split) after the Board of Selectmen met - a regular meeting including action items appointing the Moderator for ATBM, accepting gift for vests for Police safety, and a few other matters.  PLUS the Selectmen OK'd the First Selectman's Budget and the recommended $100,000 cut to Education Budget - only recommended.

The Budget Process reviews kicked off last night with the First Selectman presenting to the Board of Selectman her recommendations for the Town and Capital Budgets.  We watched from home on Town TV!   All that we missed was the opportunity to take pictures of the Selectmen making the Fire Department scramble to explain their budget and missing detail as well as the Police Commission Chair. and Vice-Chair. plus the Chief fight the fight for more police presence in the "Mile of Safety" area (the school campus).   It wasn't pretty to see - "Speak Up" statements on the subject of school safety were invoked.  At Speak Up, the First Selectman was careful to say SPECIFICALLY that the Selectmen had not been involved in this matter.  And then noted that there would be a non-public meeting of the three Boards today, we think.  We ask once again, is this legal?

I watched for a couple of hours, and sparks flew, as noted above, over the Fire Department and also over the Police Department request for 2 officiers one pre Dec. 14, and another for "Mile of Safety" specialty.  And then there is the S.R.O. (school resource officer - NOT "Single Room Occupancy") matter. 
I picked up in passing the there is going to be another one of those multi-board, executive session-type meetings tomorrow (?) on school safety.
With Power Point and accompanying remarks, First Selectman Weinstein began the evening, and then they went department by department:
My theory is that if the Grand List shrinks Weston's school budget doesn't have to.  Consider this - we will have a $9.6 million surplus next year.  To maintain the percentage of surplus at "14%" or perhaps even lower %, the total amount goes down!  This is this website's observation that  is only our opinion.

All the "usual suspects" up front!  LWV Speak Up came Saturday before the budget meetings.

Summary of First Selectman's Proposed Budget here.  The full proposed budget here.
Our question is what about the possibility of losing all or part of "car tax" revenuje stream?  Have we budgeted for this?

Message from the Superintendent

Board of Education voted to approve its FY2014 budget Thursday, January 24, 2013 - on Town TV - $46,293,666 (1.55% increase).  NOTE:  They commented on the new unfunded mandates from Governor's Education Reform package last year - our method as cheaper and worked well, now we have to be more bureaucratic and shuffle more papers (my summary of comments by Board).  Any new "security" features here?

Board of Education Budget:  First comes the Budget Workshops based on the Superintendent's proposed numbers...

As reported in the FORUM - Superintendent's Proposed Budget FY14
Executive Summary:


Please note that there have already been meetings of the Capital Planning Committee, we think.  These meetings not mentioned in the schedule:  What is the interpretation of  Article 9.2 (c)

Monday, November 19, 2012 – Budget package/forms sent to departments.
Thursday, December 13, 2012 – Departments submit budget requests to Town Administrator/Finance Director.  (Charter requires submission by January 14 of each year).

Since the Charter Revision passed we are operating on a new schedule which says:


Section 9.1 Preliminary Budget Estimates

All budget requests shall be made on or before January 14th of each year, except that the Board of Education request shall be made on or before February 3rd. These requests shall be filed with the First Selectman and shall contain a detailed estimate of expenditures and revenues, other than tax revenues, in the ensuing Fiscal Year. Except for the request by the Board of Education, such estimates shall be accompanied by a statement setting forth, in such form as the First Selectman may prescribe, the services, activities and work accomplished during the current Fiscal Year and to be accomplished during the ensuing Fiscal Year.

Section 9.2 Duties of the First Selectman on the Budget
The First Selectman shall compile preliminary estimates for the Town’s operating budget, the Board of Education’s operating budget, the capital improvement budget and the Town’s debt service (which shall be referred to collectively as the “Annual Town Budget”) for the ensuing Fiscal Year. Not later than February 10th of each year, the First Selectman shall present to the Board of Selectmen a proposed budget consisting of:
(a) a budget message outlining the proposed financial policy of the Town government, describing the important features of the proposed Annual Town Budget, indicating
any major changes from the current Fiscal Year in financial policies, expenditures and revenues together with the reasons for such changes, and containing a clear summary of the Annual Town Budget’s contents;
(b) estimates of revenue, including the receipts collected in the last completed Fiscal Year, the receipts collected during the current Fiscal Year prior to the time of preparing the estimates, the receipts estimated to be collected during the current Fiscal Year, estimates of the receipts, other than from the property tax, to be collected in the ensuing Fiscal Year, and an estimate of the then available surplus; and
(c) itemized expenditures for each Town department and each Board and Commission for the last completed Fiscal Year, expenditures for the current Fiscal Year prior to the time of preparing the estimates, total estimated expenditures for the current Fiscal Year, and the First Selectmen’s recommendations for the ensuing Fiscal Year for all items except those of
the Board of Education, which the First Selectman shall transmit to the Selectmen as submitted to the First Selectman by the Board of Education. The First Selectman shall present reasons for all of the First Selectman’s recommendations.  As part of the budget of the First Selectman, the First Selectman may present a program previously considered and acted upon by the Town Planning and Zoning Commission, in accordance with Section 8-24 of the General Statutes, of proposed municipal improvement projects for the ensuing Fiscal Year and for at least the five Fiscal Years thereafter. Estimates of the costs of such projects shall be submitted annually in the form and manner prescribed by the First Selectman. The First Selectman shall recommend to the Board of Selectmen those capital projects to be undertaken during the ensuing Fiscal Year and the method of financing same.

Section 9.3 Duties of the Board of Selectmen on the Budget
The Board of Selectmen shall review the First Selectman’s proposed Annual Town Budget, including the proposed budget of the Board of Education. The proposed Annual Town
Budget, including such alterations or changes deemed necessary by the Board of Selectmen, shall be presented to the Board of Finance not later than March 1 of each year. The proposed Annual Town Budget shall include the budget proposal of the Board of Education, but any changes to the Board of Education’s proposed budget as may desired by the Board of Selectmen shall be in the form of recommendations only.

Section 9.4 Duties of the Board of Finance on the Budget
(a) After the Board of Finance has received from the Board of Selectmen the recommended Annual Town Budget, the Board of Finance shall hold one or more public hearings at least two weeks before the date of the Annual Town Budget Meeting, at which any Qualified Voter may be heard regarding the recommended appropriations for the ensuing Fiscal
Year. At least ten days in advance of any such public hearing, the Board of Finance shall give Public Notice of such public hearing, together with the proposed appropriations of the Board of Selectmen and the proposed appropriations of the Board of Education, in condensed form.  Sufficient copies of the proposed appropriations shall be made available for general distribution in the office of the Town Clerk, online and at the public hearing. At the public hearing the First Selectman shall present the recommendations of the Board of Selectmen regarding the composition of the Annual Town Budget and the individual appropriations comprising the Budget for the ensuing Fiscal Year.
(b) After the public hearing(s) the Board of Finance shall make such revisions to the proposed appropriations as the Board of Finance deems advisable and shall thereafter recommend the proposed appropriations (as revised by the Board of Finance, if applicable) to the Annual Town Budget Meeting.

Section 9.5 The Annual Town Budget Meeting
(a) The Annual Town Budget Meeting shall be held not later than the end of the first full week in May of each year. It shall be called to order at 8 PM and, if it has not completed its business by 11:30 PM, the moderator shall adjourn the Meeting to 8 PM of successive evenings (adjourning at 11:30 PM if necessary) excepting Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays, until its business is completed. Public Notice of the Notice and Call of the Annual Town Budget Meeting shall be published at least five days prior to the Meeting. The published and posted Notice and Call shall be accompanied by the proposed appropriations, in condensed form, as recommended by the Board of Finance for the ensuing Fiscal Year.
(b) The Town Clerk shall ensure that sufficient copies of the proposed appropriations are made available for general distribution in the office of the Town Clerk at least five days prior to the Annual Town Budget Meeting and at that Meeting.
(c) The Notice and Call of the Annual Town Budget Meeting shall:
(i) list the line items that the Meeting is legally entitled to amend, namely, the appropriations in Board of Selectmen’s proposed operating budget, the Board of Education’s proposed operating budget (as one line item) and the capital improvement
budget ;
(ii) set forth the Town’s debt service budget;
(iii) state the proposed rate of taxation, indicating the portion attributable to uncollectable taxes, for the ensuing Fiscal Year;
(iv) state in its preamble who is legally entitled to vote at the Annual Town Budget Meeting;
(v) specify the circumstances under which, and the manner in which, the proposed budgets may be reduced at the Annual Town Budget Meeting; and
(vi) contain any other information required by the General Statutes or the Charter.
Sufficient copies of the Notice and Call shall be made available for general distribution in the office of the Town Clerk, online and at the Annual Town Budget Meeting.
(d) The Annual Town Budget Meeting shall consider, discuss and take action on the proposed appropriations as follows:
(i) no appropriation shall be made exceeding that for the same purpose recommended by the Board of Finance, or for any other purpose not recommended by the Board of Finance;
(ii) if, and only if, at least two percent of Qualified Voters are present at the Annual Town Meeting, any individual appropriation that is listed on the Notice and Call of the Meeting may be reduced to an amount less than that recommended by the Board of Finance by a vote of a majority of those Qualified Voters present and voting. Any motion to reduce the sum of appropriations in the proposed Annual Town Budget must specify the individual line item to be reduced and the amount of the proposed reduction; and
(iii) the consideration of any proposed decrease in any individual appropriation pursuant to Section 9.5(d)(ii) above shall be by secret ballot if requested by a number of Qualified Voters equal to not less than one-third of those Qualified Voters present at the Meeting.

Section 9.6 The Annual Town Budget Referendum
Voting on the proposed Annual Town Budget, as approved by the Annual Town Meeting, shall be by machine voting. There shall be separate votes on the following components of the Annual Town Budget:
(i) the Town’s proposed operating budget,
(ii) the Board of Education’s proposed operating budget and
(iii) the proposed capital improvement budget.
The voting shall commence immediately after the Annual Town Budget Meeting and shall continue that day as long as necessary, in the judgment of the Registrars of Voters, to accommodate all those seeking to cast votes at that time. Voting shall recommence between seven and fourteen days following the Annual Town Budget Meeting, and shall occur during the hours permitted by Section 7-7 of the General Statutes. Each component of the proposed Annual Town Budget set forth above shall be approved if a majority of Qualified Voters who vote approve that component. At the discretion of the Board of Selectmen, the ballot may permit any Qualified Voters who wish to reject a proposed component or components of the Annual Town Budget to indicate whether they would reject the proposed component(s) because they are too high or because they are too low.

Section 9.7 Procedure if the Budget is Rejected
(a) If one or more components the proposed Annual Town Budget are not approved pursuant to Section 9.6, the component(s) of proposed Budget that have not been approved shall be reconsidered by the Board of Finance and such component(s) shall be resubmitted to Qualified Voters between ten and twenty-one days after the date the machine voting was completed under Section 9.6. Voting shall occur by machine ballot, and Public Notice of such vote shall be given at least five days prior to the date of the vote. The resubmitted
proposed component(s) of the Annual Town Budget shall be approved if a majority of Qualified Voters who vote approve such component(s). At the discretion of the Board of Selectmen, the ballot may permit any Qualified Voters who wish to reject a component or components of the proposed Annual Town Budget to indicate whether they would reject the proposed component(s) because they are too high or because they are too low.
(b) Should any component of the proposed Annual Town Budget be rejected again, the process described in Section 9.7(a) shall be repeated with respect to that component until the Annual Town Budget is approved.
(c) In the event that the Annual Town Budget has not been adopted by July 1 of any year, the budget appropriations of the previous Fiscal Year shall serve as an interim budget to allow for the continued operation of Town services, and the Board of Selectmen, with the approval of the Board of Finance, from month to month thereafter until the Annual Town
Budget has been approved, may meet the obligations of the Town in accordance with said interim budget
(i) by borrowing funds by way of tax anticipation notes,
(ii) by taxation at a mill rate set by resolution of the Board of Selectmen,
(iii) by drawing upon funds in possession of the Town, or
(iv) by a combination of two or more of these means;  provided that if option (i) or option (ii), or a combination of them, is utilized, then within ten days after the Annual Town Budget has been approved the mill rate shall be fixed sufficient to fund the total anticipated obligations of the Town during the remainder of the Fiscal Year, including the repayment of all tax anticipation notes outstanding.

Section 9.8 Filing the Approved Budget
An official copy of the Annual Town Budget as finally approved shall be filed by the Board of Finance with the Town Clerk within one week following final approval. Within ten
days after the approval of the Annual Town Budget, the Board of Finance shall, by resolution, fix the tax rate in mills that shall be levied on the taxable property in the Town for the applicable Fiscal Year.

Town and city advocates call for more local aid in state budget
Ken Dixon, CT POST
Updated 12:13 am, Wednesday, April 24, 2013

HARTFORD -- The chief lobbying organization for Connecticut's towns and cities wants the General Assembly and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to compromise and use an anticipated $52 million increase in state revenue to offset proposed cuts in local aid.

The budget passed by the legislative Appropriations Committee last week is not as bad for cities like Bridgeport, Norwalk, Danbury and Stamford as Malloy's February proposal. But it is far worse for some towns, including Stratford, Ridgefield and Greenwich.

Overall, the committee approved $152 million in cuts to municipal aid, compared to $128 million in reductions recommended by the governor on the proposed 2-year, nearly $44 billion budget.

"There are winners and losers," said Jim Finley, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "Overall, in regard to operating revenue on the non-education side of town and city government, it's a loss of an additional $24 million on top of what the governor proposed."

The only good news from the Legislature is that Malloy's plan to scrap Payments in Lieu of Taxes, annual payments from the state for hosting tax-exempt property, was rejected by lawmakers, Finley said.

But even that was cut by $11 million in the powerful Appropriations Committee, along with an $11 million cut in casino revenue projections.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch said Tuesday that the committee budget "is a marked improvement," but he still has many concerns. Without funding for public and private school transportation, city taxpayers would have to shoulder an unreasonable burden, Finch said.

The PILOT cut, for untaxed college and hospital property, is still too large, he said.

"These items are never fully funded, and deeper cuts to our reimbursements will not leave us with many options," said Finch, a former state senator. "Our city serves as the nonprofit hub for the region -- thousands of people come here to take advantage of the services at hospitals and colleges, but our taxpayers have to unfairly shoulder the costs of nontaxable buildings and land."

He said every dollar of state aid that gets cut means higher local taxes.

"Our taxpayers have been loud and clear on this issue -- they don't want to see their taxes raised through the roof because the state is taking away funding to our city," Finch said. "Our legislators need to continue to work harder to find a way to restore these funds to the state budget."

Another former state lawmaker, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, said that he wished Malloy had been up-front with towns and cities in February and proposed a 5 percent cut in aid, instead of promising level funding.

Despite the CCM's calculation of a $3.6 million loss under the legislative version of the budget, the real effect for his city is closer to $900,000 because education funding is up, Boughton said.

"I'm not going to say it doesn't hurt," said Boughton, who has voiced interest in running for governor next year.

He said that the back-and-forth between legislators and Malloy will mean uncertainty as Danbury finalizes its budget in the first week of May. "They're now going to negotiate the difference and what's deeply frustrating to us is the lack of transparency and candor," he said.

The governor's office recently projected that sales and income tax revenues may increase by $52 million over previous estimates. That money should be given to towns and cities when the governor's office and legislative leaders negotiate a final budget compromise as the General Assembly heads to its June 5 deadline, Finley said.

"If the Legislature is going to consider revenue enhancements, we would like some of those proceeds filling the municipal aid gaps," Finley said, adding that it was surprising that the Appropriations Committee made larger aid reductions than Malloy.

Last week, the tax-writing Finance Committee approved a budget that would extend some existing business and petroleum taxes that were scheduled to end, but did not increase the rate of the personal income tax.

"We didn't expect that the total amount of General Fund revenue cut would be more than the governor," Finley said. "We thought that we would do a little better than the governor proposed, overall."

He said the key victories in the committee were the restoration of both the PILOT system and the direct revenue from a portion of the slot-machine wagering at the Indian casinos.

"Those are long-term wins that will pay off over time," Finley said. "If those grants were eliminated, we would never get them back."

Malloy 'looked at opportunities' to provide relief from car tax, but won't disclose budget plans

Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
February 1, 2013

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy confirmed Friday that his administration has looked for ways to provide "some level of relief" from municipal property taxes on cars, but he wouldn't say whether it would be included in the new budget he will propose to legislators Wednesday.

"I have looked at opportunities to bring some level of relief, but they are few and far between," Malloy said in response to a question from a Capitol reporter.

When pressed about whether he would propose a plan to reduce or end the unpopular car tax, the governor only repeated that opportunities for change "are few and far between under the circumstances that we're dealing with."

Those "circumstances" are a projected $1.2 billion shortfall built into the coming fiscal year based on current spending and revenue trends, a gap equal to about 6 percent of annual operating costs.

"Hey listen, I'm not presenting the budget today," the governor said, before he quickly corrected himself and noted that further details could appear in news reports in the coming days.

"As is tradition, some parts of it get somehow leaked," he said coyly. "I don't know how that happens."

Because the governor's annual budget typically contains several high-profile initiatives, administrations typically unveil several of them beforehand, rather than have them all compete for limited news coverage on the day the full budget is unveiled.

After learning from a source that the administration had studied options to lessen the municipal property tax burden, The Mirror reported Thursday that past governors faced with difficult budget proposals had tried to work in a high-profile tax cut to cushion other fiscal pain.

Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell offered a plan in 2007 to phase out the car tax across five years.

Rell, whose biennial budget plan sought to raise $1.3 billion in income taxes, would have sent $300 million of that back to communities to offset the lost property tax revenue, and another $545 million to bolster schools.

ECS TASKFORCE RECOMMENDATIONS:  Read full report here.  NOTE:  Considering that most places lose funding, how likely is it that the C.G.A. will OK it?

Honeymoon Is Over For Hartford Mayor, Council
Board 'Flexing Its Muscle,' Questioning Decisions

The Hartford Courant
3:05 PM EDT, April 28, 2013


The nine city council members sworn in at the start of 2012 spent their first year largely in step with Mayor Pedro Segarra.

The council approved numerous proposals set forth by the mayor, and both sides communicated regularly on major issues, from the city budget to legislative priorities.

But recently, reeling from staggering budget deficit projections and with mounting frustration, council members have taken a stand against Segarra. The council late last month passed an ordinance requiring the mayor to get the panel's approval for any overtime pay or for hiring not already budgeted — a measure that Segarra quickly vetoed.

Council members followed up by voting to reverse the veto — a move that hasn't happened in years, possibly even decades, according to political insiders — saying that they would work out details of the plan later.

Members also have criticized Segarra's practice of handing out bonuses to city employees — more than $160,000 over the past three years — even as the city has laid off workers. After some back-and-forth, the two sides agreed to eliminate bonuses except for those already built into union contracts.

And at least one councilman has expressed frustration over the thousands of dollars spent by people in the mayor's office on travel, dining and office equipment, among other things. Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, a Democrat who until recently was a longtime supporter of Segarra's, responded by introducing legislation that would ban the use of all city credit cards.

Some council members said they're growing tired of the spending, as Hartford faces increasing fiscal challenges, and of a mayor who appears to be losing touch with the needs of his constituents.

"There's an agreement about things that need correcting in terms of how the administration deals with the council and how it runs government," Kennedy said. "There's kind of this attitude [from the administration] of, 'Leave us alone, we're doing this the right way.'"

The council has requested an audit of all city purchasing cards — credit cards used by employees to pay for meals, travel and other expenses. Members said they'll hold off voting on Kennedy's ban until they review all of the documents.

Segarra said that council members' proposals — such as the plans to eliminate bonuses and purchasing cards — don't reflect his overall performance as the city's chief executive officer.

He said the bonuses were given to people who made strong efforts to help offset city deficits and save money. In his budget address earlier this month, he suggested streamlining Hartford's travel and technology expenses with the hope of bringing down costs.

"Anyone who's looking at this objectively would see I'm moving the city forward," Segarra said. "I understand very clearly that one of the biggest challenges confronting the city has been poverty."

Segarra said he agrees with the council's concerns about overtime costs, and is willing to work with members on a solution. He said that better communication is needed from both sides, and he encourages council members to suggest more solutions.

"If there was communication and collaboration, we could reach soaring heights," he said. "The strategy I have relied on is communication. I need to have a conversation with them on their expectations of me and my expectations of them."

Councilman Alexander Aponte, a Democrat who is the panel's majority leader, defended Segarra, saying that many of the attacks on the mayor were politically motivated.

"The voters can say, 'We don't like the job the mayor is doing,' and they can replace the mayor, but instead the council wants to replace the mayor," he said. "It's naked political ambition."

Aponte, a Segarra ally, said that some of his colleagues were "jumping ahead" by making decisions about finances prior to the release of Segarra's 2013-14 budget proposal.

"Because of the large deficit next year, people are jumping the gun," he said. "Let them present the budget and then let us decide what we're going to do."

"We should all be able to sit down and talk about this. We need open, honest dialogue instead of issuing press releases."

Segarra has proposed closing what was projected to be a $70 million deficit next year by making tens of millions of dollars in spending cuts, through savings brought on by the restructuring of debt, through employee concessions and by taking money from the city's rainy day fund.

Still, some council members expressed a need for greater fiscal control as the city faces large budget deficits in the coming years. Future deficit projections include: $72 million in 2014-15; $77.4 million in 2015-16; and $82.3 million in 2016-17, according to the city's management and budget office.

"The theme of our actions is, we want to make the city better," said Shawn Wooden, a Democrat and the city council president. "We're just concerned about making sure we advocate for taxpayers in this city, our residents. We're responding to what we hear, which has been concerns about spending and waste in government."

Councilman Larry Deutsch, a member of the Working Families Party and the panel's minority leader, said some council members have felt that the mayor hasn't kept them informed about important issues, like city development deals.

"Generally, we don't feel like we're at the table when plans are discussed for any development project," he said. "The city council in general, and the minority party in part, receives plans and proposals late in the game and without adequate information to see who's really benefiting. Many times under [former Mayor] Eddie Perez and still under Pedro we get proposals, but we don't have an awareness of the overall plan."

Segarra said, however, that he has increased transparency in connection with city finances and development projects. He said that he has provided the council with monthly fiscal updates, term sheets, meeting dates and times and details about offers.

Kevin Brookman, a Hartford resident who has written about city spending issues on his blog, "We The People," said he was concerned about several charges he noticed in a review of city purchasing card statements, including dinners at high-end restaurants.

"I think a lot of people just feel that the administration is so far out of touch with what the people of Hartford are feeling," Brookman said. "There are plenty of people who would love to whip out a credit card and buy dinner on the taxpayers' dime, but we don't have that kind of luxury. It's also difficult for us to cry poverty at the Capitol when there's spending like that."

John Kennelly, a member of the Hartford Democratic Town Committee and former city councilman, said that although the city's economic strain has created friction between the mayor and council, the rift is more likely caused by the council's trying to figure out its role.

"Ten years out from when the strong mayor form of government was adopted, the legislative body is finally, for the first time, flexing its muscles and spreading its wings," he said. "They're trying to figure out where they fit in the governance of Hartford."

Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant

State and Bridgeport tussle over $3.3 million for schools
Brian Lockhartand Linda Conner Lambeck
Updated 12:23 am, Tuesday, May 7, 2013

BRIDGEPORT -- Mayor Bill Finch's administration is negotiating feverishly in Hartford to shrink a state-mandated $3.3 million spike in education spending that the mayor inexplicably left out of his proposed budget.

Since Finch did not include the money in his 2013-14 fiscal plan, Bridgeport officials are now trying to convince the state they should not be on the hook for the $3.3 million because of all the unreimbursed "in-kind" school expenses the city covers.

"If a city takes over some $1 million activity for the (school) board, they get a credit, or vice versa," said Ben Barnes, head of the state Office of Policy and Management, who participated in a conference call on the topic Friday with the mayor's office. "So we've agreed to look for some additional information from them. (And) we'll provide them with some additional clarification of how we're interpreting the statute."

For example, Bridgeport's Police Department took control of school security. The city's public facilities department maintains the district's buildings.  If the city expanded those activities, it could count toward its school spending requirement.  But just how much of that $3.3 million tab might be whittled away is unclear.

Any unanticipated expense is a problem for Finch, since his 2013-14 budget already increases the average homeowner's $6,822 property tax bill by $391. Businesses paying an average $17,112 would pay an additional $981.  The mayor released a budget in early April that flat-funded education despite being advised in mid-March by the state that last year's education reforms required that Bridgeport spend $3.3 million more on its schools.

The city is one of several "alliance districts" -- underperforming school districts that receive added state aid in exchange for increasing local education spending over the next five years.

The dispute over the $3.3 million became public in late April after Bridgeport Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas factored the funds into his 2013-14 budget.  Finch and his office have refused to discuss the matter publicly, instead issuing the same terse statements that the administration is focused on a resolution.

"I don't know if it was confusion or if (the mayor's office) just chose not to put it in. I don't know what those conversations were," said state Sen. Andres Ayala, D-Bridgeport. "I do know we need to find a way the city can get the funds it needs."

Ayala wants the state to also add the Finch administration's investments in school construction toward the $3.3 million commitment -- something not allowed under statute.

"Is that an education expense? Could that be included in that in-kind contribution? Right now it's not ... I'd argue it should be considered," Ayala said. "Would that open the flood gates for other municipalities? They should have that bite at the apple, as well."

Any change to the education reforms will require support of key legislators like the co-chairs of the General Assembly's Education Committee, Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, and Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford.  In separate interviews, each said they are willing to listen to the Finch administration, but hesitant to let Bridgeport off the hook for the money.

"I have some serious concerns," said Fleischmann. "It's not as if there are indicators Bridgeport students in schools are reaching levels of academic growth that would justify they have a completely different system from all the other alliance districts."

Stillman noted Bridgeport has had a history of underfunding its schools.

"The reality is, it is the law," she said. "I think Bridgeport should be able to do it."

But, she added, the Legislature does not adjourn for another month.

"We've got another few weeks and, hopefully, we can come to some resolution," Stillman said.

But Bridgeport's City Council is scheduled to adopt a budget early next week.  Budget Committee co-chairwoman Susan Brannelly, D-130, at a meeting last week asked whether the city could begin charging the school district for in-kind services.  Vallas told the committee he is weighing contingency plans.

"Do we need $3.3 million more? Yeah," Vallas said. "Can we live without it? If we have to, we will find a way to do that."

But Vallas might also need to worry about even deeper cuts. Fleischmann noted there is another way to alleviate Bridgeport's $3.3 million burden: Cut state education dollars.

"I haven't heard that one proposed by anyone from Bridgeport," he said.

State warned Finch of $3.3 million shortfall
Brian Lockhart, CT POST
Updated 12:35 am, Monday, April 29, 2013

BRIDGEPORT -- Why did Democratic Mayor Bill Finch release a 2013-14 budget without acknowledging the state expected the city to hike education spending?

That's the $3.3 million question.

"We think the law's pretty clear," Andrew Doba, spokesman for Gov. Dannel Malloy, said Friday.

In mid-March, two weeks before Finch briefed the Connecticut Post editorial board on his proposed budget sent the document to the City Council, state education officials, via email, reminded the administration of its fiscal responsibilities to the Bridgeport public schools.

"Remember you will need to increase next year's Board of Education appropriation by $3.3 million to be compliant," Brian Mahoney, the state Department of Education's chief financial officer, wrote Thomas Sherwood, head of Finch's Office of Policy and Management.

The emails were released by the state education department late Thursday.

Sherwood was perplexed, writing back he thought "Bridgeport would be fine this year."

"Where does the ... increase come from?" Sherwood wrote. "I cannot just increase the budget without that justification."

On the face of it, there is no mystery.

The state education reforms passed last year by Malloy and the General Assembly required the lowest-performing districts, including Bridgeport, to not only spend at least as much on education in 2013-14 as in the current fiscal year, but to increase that contribution by a percentage over the next four years.

The multiyear program is referred to as the minimum budget requirement. For fiscal year 2013-14, however, only Bridgeport is expected to increase its education spending, state officials said.

Although the minimum budget requirement needs to be renewed by the Legislature, Malloy and the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee have signaled their strong support to do so.

In response to Sherwood's concerns, the state education officials emailed the Finch administration their preliminary calculations behind the $3.3 million. That was the last email provided by the state to the Connecticut Post.

Despite those mid-March warnings, when Finch released his 2013-14 budget April 1, the plan maintained the same level of funding for schools as the current fiscal year.

Neither he nor Sherwood at the time gave any indication there was a dispute with the state.

Finch did present three budget scenarios based on fears of severe cuts in state aid. But none contemplated the possibility of having to spend another $3.3 million on education.

"If it was even considered at risk it would have been put in each (scenario)," said Councilwoman Susan Brannelly, D-130, a co-chairman of the council's budget committee. "It was mentioned to us as a logistic, non-issue that needed to be ironed out."

But in mid-April Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas and the city's school board unveiled a spending plan that counted on the $3.3 million, and suddenly the matter moved from a logistical issue to a potential budget crisis.

The council is already struggling to close huge gaps in state aid without agreeing to Finch's proposed $391 tax increase for homes and $981 increase for businesses.

Finch thinks highly of Vallas, a celebrity in the world of education reform on whom the mayor is counting to turn around the city's public schools. And school board Chairman Kenneth Moales was Finch's campaign treasurer.

But on the issue of the $3.3 million, Moales does not mince words.

"He is in trouble," Moales said recently. "Somehow, he is going to have to come up with the extra dollars. If he doesn't, he is breaking (state) law."

Finch declined to comment on the situation when approached by the Connecticut Post Wednesday evening. Further questioning was cut off by his spokeswoman, Elaine Ficarra.

"You're not going to put him on the spot over here ... to talk about it, OK?" she said.

On Thursday, Ficarra issued a brief statement that the Finch administration was "incredibly focused on this issue and we are working diligently to resolve it," but offered no further explanation.

Doba confirmed a meeting has been scheduled this week between state and city officials.

State Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport, said from what she understands, there are differing interpretations of the minimum budget requirement and how to apply the formula.

"This new law is complicated," Grogins said.

She also suggested there might have been some confusion in Bridgeport because the governor and General Assembly still must vote to extend the minimum budget requirement into 2013-14.

Brannelly said the Finch administration and the city's legislative delegation have expressed confidence that the city will not be on the hook for the additional $3.3 million.

"But clearly our committee is very concerned we will be responsible," she said.

Under the law, the city would have until the end of the next fiscal year to come up with the $3.3 million. If noncompliant at the end of that time, Bridgeport would lose double the amount in state education aid for each $1 it fell short in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

James Finley, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said the group has Bridgeport's back. Finch is a CCM first vice president. Finley said the city is being put in an unfair situation by the state.

"Bridgeport is almost the poster child of the challenges that our urban centers face," Finley said. "Property taxes are extremely high in Bridgeport for a variety of reasons ... At the same time, the state is chronically under-funding education and also pulling back their support on non-education revenues."

Council cuts budget proposals

Danbury News-Times
Nanci G. Hutson
Updated 12:32 pm, Wednesday, May 1, 2013

NEWTOWN -- School leaders and several parents appeared pained Tuesday night to lose another $750,000 from the proposed 2013-14 education budget, far more than the $150,000 reduction to the town budget.

In a nearly three-hour session, the Legislative Council listened to comments from education supporters, as well as taxpayers who said they cannot afford any more increases, before they debated how to ensure passage of the school and town budgets at the next referendum.

A week ago, the voters rejected a $72 million school budget and a $39 million municipal budget, which would've increased taxes by 4.7 percent.

The Legislative Council said the public priority remains school security, and these budget cuts can be achieved without interfering with the plan to provide armed school resource officers in each of Newtown's seven schools.

The relocated Sandy Hook School in Monroe expects its police security to be funded through grants.

A compromise to reduce just a half-million of the school budget failed because the majority of Legislative Council members argued voters will not accept the higher spending levels, particularly when school enrollment is declining. The $750,000 reduction passed 9-3.

School Board Chairman Debbie Leidlein said the education budget was painstakingly reviewed at all levels of town government and meets federal and state mandates for educational progress.

"I can't publicly support this budget," she said.

She said the budget was prepared before the Dec. 14 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. New priorities may arise becauses of the tragedy. Without resources they will not be answered, she said.

All-day kindergarten, additional technology, and certain building and maintenance projects may also be delayed.

Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson, who will leave the district Friday, said this budget is so tight that she cannot find money to replace classroom door locks. First Selectman Pat Llodra said the school board can tap a capital reserve fund to cover the expense.

2011 population of Newtown over 27,000 - 4,400 voted
Newtown Voters Reject $111 Million Budget, Including Extra School Security
Hartford Courant 
By MARK ZARETSKY, New Haven Register (MCT) McClatchy-Tribune News Service
10:47 a.m. EDT, April 24, 2013


Dec. 14 or no Dec. 14, many of the town’s residents just thought the proposed 2013-2014 budget was too high, and they made their feelings known Tuesday, rejecting both sides of the proposed $111.15 million budget.

It would have amounted to a 4.71 percent increase.

The Board of Education budget was separated from the town budget as a result of charter revision passed last November in the wake of last year’s bruising process, when the combined budget finally was approved on the fifth try.

Parents’ widespread desire for better security in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shootings that killed 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the overriding issue throughout the process leading up to the vote.

But none of that prevented voters from rejecting the proposal, kicking the education budget to the curb by a 482-vote margin, 1,994 in favor versus 2,476 opposed.

Voters rejected the town budget by a 66-vote margin, 2,207 in favor versus 2,273 opposed.

Both budgets now go back to the Legislative Council for revisions.

In the advisory questions about whether each budget was too low, voters in both cases overwhelmingly said the budgets were not too low.

The vote on the town budget was 299 to 3,926. The vote on the education budget was 605 to 3,650.

“I don’t know how to interpret that,” a clearly disappointed First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra said after the totals were announced.

“The voters have spoken. The budget needs to be adjusted. ... So we’ll adjust the budget.”

Llodra said her sense from the additional advisory questions was that “it would seem that the (Board of Selectmen) budget is about right.

With regard to specifics, “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” she said.

Board of Education Chairwoman Debbie Leidlein said the school board would do its best to come up with appropriate recommendations for the Legislative Council.

“I’m disappointed,” Leidlein said. “I think the voters have overwhelmingly answered the questions that they think the budgets are too high.”

She expressed the wish that “hopefully we can make some incremental reductions, rather than drastic cutbacks as in past years.”

During last year’s budget process, the education budget was cut by an additional $1 million, Leidlein said.

But “first of all, we have to give the Legislative Council some answers going forward. ... We have to keep security and mental health top priorities, so we will do that.”

But some other things will have to be cut, Leidlein said.

Legislative Council member Phil Carroll, R-3, also was surprised.

“From what I’ve been hearing from a lot of people, they weren’t going to make a stink, but I just think they thought it was too big an increase,” Carroll said. “A lot of people are just saying, ‘We can’t afford this.’”

The proposed $111.15 million combined budget represents a 4.71 percent increase from the current year. Of that, about $72 million was the Board of Education’s recommended budget, and $39 million was the Board of Selectmen’s recommended town budget.

The proposed education budget represented a 5.5 percent increase while they proposed town budget represented a 3.34 percent increase.  As written, the budget would have required a 33.7-mill tax rate, a 5.24 percent increase from the current year.

Between them, the school and town budgets included nearly $1 million to hire additional police officers in order to have armed police resource officers, as well as unarmed security guards in each of the district’s seven schools.  The bulk of that money, to fund the police officers, was in the selectmen’s municipal budget, said Llodra.

Money for the unarmed security guards was in the school budget.  Funds also were in the budget to help pay security costs for the town’s three private schools.  Many residents coming out of the school were more than happy to discuss how they voted and why.

“I voted yes. I think it’s necessary,” said Sandy Hook resident Judy Rosentel. In fact, “I vote yes every year, and I didn’t want to come back and vote again,” she said.

“I voted no on everything,” said Sandy Hook resident Jim Shpunt, a member of the Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co. “I think the budget is way out of line on everything. ... I think there are a lot of ways we can save the town money,” he said.

“I voted for it,” said another Sandy Hook resident who would identify himself only by his first name, Tom. Because of all the town has been through in the past few months since the Dec. 14 mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “I guess for this election...I give them the benefit of the doubt.”

But Nick Barzetti of Flat Swamp Road said he voted no, just like he always does.

“I’ve been voting no for 40 years,” said Barzetti, who said his views are pretty well known around town, in part because he’s not shy about expressing them in letters to the editor of the local newspapers.

“I just think that a teacher making $80,000 to $90,000 a year, working 180 days ... I just think it’s an absolute” travesty, he said.

“A lot of people in town are paying $15,000 to $20,000 a year” in property taxes, he said.

Karin Hooper, also a Sandy Hook resident, said she thought the total was too high, so despite the issues about increase school security, “I voted no.”

She’s not convinced that having armed officers in every school is the way to go.

“I don’t know if we researched it enough,” Hooper said. She said she would like to see aggressive research of other security measures besides armed guards, including physical changes in the schools.

Monroe population approx. 19,500, @ 4000 voted
Monroe residents defeat $80.3M budget
MariAn Gail Brown, CT POST
Updated 12:19 am, Wednesday, April 24, 2013

MONROE -- After two budget referendums this month, town residents still don't know how much money they will have to run their schools and local government for fiscal year 2013-14.

That's because residents defeated a proposed $80.3 million budget Tuesday by a count of 2,217 to 2,067, a difference of 150 votes.

The latest referendum put two questions before taxpayers -- one on the budget and another on the school district's proposed 10-year contract with Honeywell to bond energy and security upgrades at four public schools.

While the budget is headed to a third referendum on May 7, the $3.8 million Honeywell contract passed, 2,578 to 1,670, a margin of 908 votes.

"I think we made a tremendous step forward and took a slight step back," First Selectman Stephen J. Vavrek said after the results were tabulated. "I think we put together a great budget with bipartisan support across the board."

Opponents offered several reasons for voting against the spending plan. Many residents said the overall budget increase of $1.7 million was too steep. Others said they had "a distrust" of government.

Dan Harrington, the father of two college-aged daughters, called the budget a reasonable one that preserved and expanded some services such as street repairs.

"I like that it has some money in there for road maintenance, which has been neglected for a while," Harrington said earlier in the day. "And I don't want to be one of those typical people who don't have kids in the schools who vote no on the budget because of education spending."

Like the first budget proposal on April 2, the budget defeated Tuesday included funding for full-day kindergarten and stepped up security at public schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre less than five miles away.

As for the Honeywell contract, Elena Rockman-Blake, a financial analyst who telecommutes, said that she had "confidence that the town will achieve the energy savings" Honeywell and the town officials have touted.

"I elected these people and I believe that I elected competent people who can get things right," she said.

The town's two registrars of voters, Sue Koneff and Judy Stripay, added four poll workers at two of the town's largest voting districts because they anticipated a higher turnout than the first referendum. This was because the Honeywell bonding contract was added to the ballot after residents petitioned to have it put before the electorate.

"A petition signed by hundreds of people tends to raise voter turnout," Koneff said from her office late Tuesday afternoon, adding that combining the two questions on the same date saves taxpayers between $6,000 and $8,000, but makes counting votes take longer.

Jan Jurgielewicz IV, a jazz drummer and father of two young children, said he supported the budget because it emphasized education.

Jurgielewicz, who sports an electric orange Mohawk that makes him hard to overlook in a crowd, gave Vavrek a huge thumbs up outside the polls as he headed into the building.

Jurgielewicz said he joins about a dozen Stepney School parents at his son's bus stop every morning to talk about issues and current events, including schools and taxes.

"We all reminded each other to make sure and get out to vote (Tuesday)," he said. "We didn't tell each other how to vote, only to vote. But we're all intensely interested in making sure that our schools and our children have what they need to have to succeed."

Voters reject $80.5M budget in Monroe
MariAn Gail Brown, CT POST
Updated 10:55 pm, Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MONROE -- After two years of passing the budget on the first vote, Monroe residents defeated a proposed $80.5 million package Tuesday.

Unofficially, the proposed 2013-14 budget was defeated 2,218 to 1,878. The spending plan was voted down at all four polling places in town.

"It's back to the drawing board. I'm disappointed, obviously," First Selectman Steve Vavrek said Tuesday night. "We had a lot of support among parents. I've got to listen to the elected officials, some of whom wanted much, much more cut out of this (budget)."

The next budget referendum is set for April 23, Vavrek said.  Nick Kapoor, a Democrat on the Town Council, was also disappointed.

"The citizens of Monroe have spoken and cannot support this year's budget," Kapoor said. "This budget had many good things in it -- a great plan for the fire services, mental health funding, a slight increase in the education budget with savings maintained from energy efficiencies ... and improvements to Wolfe Park, among many other things."

In exit polling Tuesday, neither supporters nor opponents of the proposed budget wanted to predict the budget's chances of success.  Teresa Oleyar, a parent of four children -- three of whom are school-aged -- said she couldn't handicap the vote, declaring it "too close to call."

In the eight years Oleyar has lived in Monroe, many votes have been squeakers.  One of the key issues that drove her to support the proposed budget is full-day kindergarten. Her son is enrolled in kindergarten at Stepney Elementary School.

"I would like us to not be the only town around here to not have it," Oleyar said. "I think that it makes other towns seem more attractive, and with our declining school enrollment, we probably should encourage other families to move here (to reverse that enrollment trend)."

Along parts of Cutler Farm Road near Wolfe Park, a 300-acre, town-owned recreation area where Little League baseball and other outdoor sports are just getting under way, there were a handful of anti-budget signs urging defeat of the spending plan.  Monroe Town Clerk Marsha Beno issued 119 absentee ballot applications to voters who informed the town they would not be able to make it to the polls Tuesday.  All of those absentee ballots were received in time to be counted for the referendum, Democratic Registrar of Voters Sue Koneff said.

"I think this is a record for us," Koneff said. "I can't think of a time ever when every single absentee ballot was cast."

Around 6 p.m., with only two hours left before the town's polling places closed, 3,163 votes had been cast, not including the 119 absentee ballots. The number of votes cast at that time represented about one-quarter of the town's eligible voters.

Last year, a total of 3,139 votes were cast and the budget won approval by 30 votes.

Funding cut could close historic Pequot Library
Meg Barone, CT POST
Published 5:24 pm, Saturday, April 6, 2013

FAIRFIELD -- Drive by the Pequot Library any day and chances are the front lawn will resemble a Norman Rockwell painting, with the distinctive architecture of the 19th-century Southport landmark serving as the backdrop for children at play, picnickers and dog walkers. 

But visitors and staff may have had another painting in mind to describe the atmosphere earlier this week -- Edvard Munch's "The Scream" -- as they reacted with dismay to news that the Board of Finance cut all town funding for the privately run library in the proposed 2013-14 budget.

If the $350,000 proposed allocation --about one-third of the Pequot Library's annual budget -- is not restored by the Representative Town Meeting the library could be forced to close, said library Executive Director Martha Lord.

"One of the problems that is of tremendous concern to us is that it could potentially shut down the library because a third of our budget just went away overnight with one vote," said Kelsey Biggers, a member of the Pequot Library board and its former president. "Of all the items that were cut ... we were the only ones that were zeroed out. We were cut 100 percent. The library is in danger unless we can reverse this decision or find an as yet unidentified way to close the gap."

Finance Board member Chris DeWitt said that the Pequot "is not our library," adding if the Pequot Library were forced to close, patrons could instead simply go to the main branch of the Fairfield Public Library.

But several people pointed out that the public library does not offer the same programming as the Pequot Library, nor does it have the same charm, history or atmosphere. They said the Pequot Library is not just a repository of books. "They think they're just taking away books, (but) it goes beyond a lending library," said Elizabeth Patterson, the library's director of development. The books are a starting point."

The library is perhaps best known to people outside the community for its annual summer book sale, reputed to be among the largest in the Northeast, as well as its renowned rare book collection.

"It's more of a community center, a small town community center," said Jaclyn Picarillo, who brought her daughters Brooke, 3, and Margot, 1, to the library this week for an activity in the children's section.

Jennifer Banks, of Fairfield, called the Pequot "an educational and community resource for children and adults." Banks, who works as an editor for a book publishing company, called the potential impact of the funding cut "devastating."

"We need libraries," Banks said.

Lord, the executive director, said the Pequot Library attracts about 28,000 people each year. "That's significant. For most libraries that would be a huge number. From a programming standpoint, we are very active," she said.

The Pequot features fun, family-oriented activities, from typical library story-time programs to the July Fourth Bike Parade and Holiday Carol Sing, to concerts and author presentations. Other, more unusual programs include a Scrabble club that meets weekly and a children's knitting club.

Some people called the Finance Board's move short-sighted, saying the five board members who voted to eliminate all of the library's town support lacked understanding of the library's mission, programs and services, which benefit all Fairfield residents.

As news of the cut spread, the library telephone began ringing and more than 100 people had responded within hours of a library-generated e-flier asking supporters to contact town officials by simply clicking their computer mouses. Signs posted throughout the library asked patrons to contact their RTM representatives.

Members of the District 1 RTM delegation, who represent the Pequot's Southport neighborhood, are rallying in support of restoring the library's money.

"I am extremely upset that this resource used by the community, not just District 1, is being zero funded," said Jay Lipp, R-1. "No other program in the town experienced this cut."

Lipp said he had received hundreds of emails after the board's Tuesday vote, and hopes the RTM would restore the funds if appealed.

For Eric Sundman, R-1, closing the Pequot Library "would be as terrible as us having to close a school." He said his family visits the library about three days a week.

"I could not imagine Fairfield without this iconic, community-centric, historic treasure," he said.

Salem standardizes school day for all grades
By Kelly Catalfamo
Published 04/03/2013 12:00 AM

Salem - Next year, the school day will be the same for all students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade at Salem School, a result of declining enrollment and a decreased budget.

But at Monday night's Board of Education meeting, during which the schedule changes were approved, parents expressed frustration with the lack of communication.

"I don't feel like I have enough information on why this is occurring," said Denise Orsini at the meeting. "I just feel like parents aren't really being made aware of what's going on."

Several parents said they heard nothing about the changes until they received a paper in their children's take-home folders last week. The note in the Wednesday folder mentioned that the school board would be deciding between two different restructuring models but did not go into detail about the reason such changes were being considered.

At Monday's meeting, board members and administrators explained the rationale for the changes.

"I apologize that we haven't given you the information, but we're making this change very quickly," said Linda Robson, adding the long-term education planning subcommittee had only been considering the models for about a month. "Some of what is driving that is the budget."

The Board of Finance recently asked the school board to cut its budget by 1 percent. The proposed budget already included a reduction of six full-time employees but had increased largely for reasons outside the board's control, such as an increase in tuition fees for special education.

The board turned to restructuring to help decrease costs further.

Students will attend school from 8:40 a.m. to 3:25 p.m., which is the current elementary school schedule. The middle school hours, which have differed from the elementary school's for the past nine years, are currently 7:35 a.m. to 2:25 p.m.

"The split schedule costs more in terms of staff," said school board Chairman Stephen Buck. "No one intentionally left parents out, it just snowballed in a hurry."

There are also benefits to a unified schedule outside the cost savings, according to school administrators. Interim middle school Principal Suzanne Zahner and elementary school Principal Cynthia Ritchie said the changes will improve communication with staff by allowing them to hold one schoolwide staff meeting instead of two separate ones.

It will also make it easier for staff members who serve both schools, such as the speech pathologist and Spanish teacher, to respond to requests. That is currently a "balancing act" because of the split schedules, said Zahner.

Declining enrollment

The structural changes are also a response to declining enrollment in Salem School. In 2001, the school had 599 students, but the number has steadily declined to this year's 423. Robson said projections show that the school will lose an additional 30 students in the near future.

With all grades on the same schedule, the school administration hopes to train teachers to be content-specific rather than grade-specific. That way, teachers could teach their subject matter to multiple grade levels, compensating for the potentially tiny class sizes.

Also under consideration is the possibility of children in kindergarten through eighth grade riding on the same bus, a source of concern for some parents who spoke during the public comment period of the meeting.

Superintendent Joseph Onofrio said neighboring school districts of similar size - Bozrah, Franklin, Lisbon and Voluntown - bus students in kindergarten through eighth grade together.

"To be frank with you, our students are good kids," he said in response to concerns about the different maturity levels of a kindergartner and a middle schooler. "We do believe we can help some of them understand the power of being a role model and helping younger students acclimate to school."

At the end of the meeting, parents seemed to have a better understanding of the restructuring but were still unhappy about the process.

"I would ask that next time you restructure the school, you do solicit input from the community and from the staff," Salem parent Chris Bennett told the board.

Orsini said after the meeting that she was still disappointed in the level of parent involvement in the discussion. Although she had known the school was considering changes, she said she had no idea they would be voted on and implemented so soon.

She explained that parents received requests for input on changes to the schedule after snow days and that the board did an excellent job of communicating with them on that issue. She was disappointed that parents were not asked to be as involved in this decision, which she called a "big change."

Police budget is committee focus
Frank MacEachern, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:43 pm, Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The police budget was a focus of a Board of Estimate and Taxation workshop Tuesday before the board, in a little more than two weeks, votes on the Greenwich municipal budget for 2013-14.

The total budget proposal for next fiscal year now stands at $431 million, a 6.7 percent jump over the current year's $404 million budget, the first to top $400 million.

The police budget has become a hot topic after the BET's four-member Budget Committee voted to take $600,000 from the Police Department's salary budget and place it in a fixed charge account that would require the department to come back to the BET if it needed the money.

The committee also voted to cut 10 positions out of the department's 155-officer table of organization. The department said it now has 144 officers due to retirements and the difficulty in placing recruits into the Connecticut Police Academy.

Budget Committee Chairman Joseph Pellegrino said on Thursday that the cuts are not permanent and he supports all ways for the department to hire extra officers.

BET Chairman Michael Mason said the board wants to help the police department have adequate staffing levels.

"Nobody is not willing to support that. The problem is how to get him there," he said.

But one Budget Committee member, Democrat Jeffrey Ramer, said Tuesday he believed cutting those positions from the organizational table is a mistake. He said he believed it tied Chief James Heavey's hands as he sought to hire new officers.

There was also a question Tuesday as to whether the Budget Committee had cut the 10 vacant positions. Pellegrino said after the meeting they will have to go back to the minutes of Thursday's meeting to see if it had.

"There was some ambiguity there," he said after Tuesday's meeting.

Sean Goldrick, a BET Democrat, questioned police staffing levels, especially in light of what he said was a decline in the crime rate locally and nationally during the last two decades.

"I suspect we are way over the norm in staffing per population," he said.

He also noted the Police Department created a narcotics unit three years ago, only to see possession of small amounts of marijuana decriminalized in the last 16 months.

Comments like that and what he perceived as the BET becoming involved in police operations angered Democratic selectman Drew Marzullo who attended the sparsely attended meeting at the Havemeyer Building.

Marzullo, who didn't speak at the meeting accused the board of "micro managing" the police budget.

"They are slowly encroaching on the executive," he said in comments outside the meeting. "If one wants to play police commissioner and opine on organizational tables, crime rates and staffing, come November run for first selectman."

Marzullo said his comments were directed at the entire BET and not at his fellow Democrat.

Mason also warned that the town is facing future cost challenges such as health and pension benefits that he said will put strain on future budgets.

"We have done yeoman's work, yet at the end of the day the pressure will grow," he said.

The meeting had a time limit of six minutes per topic, with extensions granted for thornier issues such as the police budget. The board reviewed all aspects of the proposed budget.

The BET will host a public hearing on the budget on March 19 and vote on it two days later.

The Representative Town Meeting will also vote on the budget.

Weston did its security upgrade planning in secret (executive sessions, lots of them, plus closed door meetings of what has become the GLOBAL FACILITIES COMMITTEE now);  and via special appropriation of $434,732 at a June 10, 2013 double-feature meeting that culminated in an executive session that began at 9:30pm and culminated with the "Joint Meeting" of the Selectmen and Finance Boards voting at 11:05pm or so for...who knows what?
RTM OKs $1.4M schools security upgrade
Neil Vigdor, Greenwich TIME
Published 10:24 pm, Monday, April 8, 2013

Taking a lesson from Newtown, Greenwich committed $1.4 million in taxpayer funds Monday night to beef up security at all public schools in town.

An interim appropriation requested by the school district to help fortify its facilities sailed through the Representative Town Meeting in an 183-to-5 vote, with one abstention.

The vote took place a few hours after President Obama visited Connecticut to promote a federal gun control package and met with families of the victims of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

The security upgrades planned by Greenwich mirror those recommended by a panel appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the wake of the tragedy.

"We urge you to support it," Gordon Ennis, chairman of the RTM Finance Committee, told the legislative body. "The only question that came up is where do you draw the line when it comes to school security? We think it's thorough."

In the near-term, Greenwich will replace all locks on classroom doors so they can be secured from both the inside and outside.

Classroom doors can now only be locked from the outside.

The school district plans to use the funds for additional security cameras; to upgrade intercom systems; reinforce windows with laminated security glass; and to put shades on classroom doors and windows that can lowered in an emergency.

Greenwich, anticipating there will be a demand for contractors to do similar projects in other Fairfield County municipalities, will embark on the project in the spring and summer.

"It's a very competitive situation out there right now," Schools Superintendent William McKersie told Greenwich Time immediately after the RTM's vote at Central Middle School. "We're going to move it as fast as we can.

"It's been four months since a heavily armed gunmen smashed through the glass doors of Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children age 7 and under, as well as six female educators in the worst rampage of its kind in U.S. history."

A 16-page interim report released last month by the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission specifically recommends that school districts install Internet protocol security cameras, which are capable of sending live video and data over computer networks.

"They're very consistent in what was produced in those other findings," said Josh Brown, chairman of the RTM Education Committee.

One question the committee asked school administrators and local police was whether the security camera footage could be accessed by unauthorized individuals.

"No remote monitoring would be possible, which was of concern to our committee," Brown said.

The $1.4 million facilities initiative is the first of four prongs in a broader plan to beef up security in Greenwich Public Schools.

The district is weighing the addition of a second full-time school resource police officer to complement one assigned to Greenwich High School.

The increase in manpower would cost $80,000 to $100,000 annually in salary and benefits, according to McKersie, who said the second school resource officer would give police a presence in the three middle schools. The school board could vote on the position as early as the beginning of April, McKersie has said.

The third prong involves additional training for teachers to identify threats and suspicious persons.

Lastly, the school district plans to revisit its entry procedures at each of its facilities and roll out new ones later in the spring.

"It'll be a more rigorous entry process," McKersie said.

BET OKs $1.4M in school security upgrades

Neil Vigdor, Greenwich TIME
Updated 12:50 am, Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Read more:
With school districts throughout Connecticut on heightened alert since the December massacre in Newtown, Greenwich officials tentatively agreed Monday night to invest $1.4 million in taxpayer funds to harden the security infrastructure at all public schools.

All 12 members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation supported an interim appropriation for a checklist of security enhancements proposed by school administrators in consultation with local law enforcement.

The school district plans to use the funds for additional security cameras; to upgrade intercom systems; fix the locks on all classroom doors so they can be locked from the inside by a teacher; reinforce windows with laminated security glass; and to put shades on the windows of classroom doors.

The unanimous BET vote at Town Hall coincided with Monday's release of an interim report by the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, a panel appointed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy that recommended stricter school security standards.

"It validates in almost every area the approach we've taken," Schools Superintendent William McKersie said of the report during an interview with Greenwich Time.

This is a busy week for the finance board, which will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Town Hall Meeting Room on the proposed $431 million town budget for next fiscal year. Its deliberations will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday.

A major cost driver for the town is the direction of a $37 million music instruction space and auditorium project at Greenwich High School.

Contractor bids on the project, which has been complicated by the discovery of toxic soil on the campus, came in $7 million above initial forecasts.

"These are crazy numbers. And they're crazy numbers because we feel they are frightened by the site," Joseph Ross, chairman of the project's building committee, told the BET.

The overage has school administrators re-assessing the scope of the project, which could be scaled back by removing the auditorium's orchestra pit or balcony.

"We're just going to have to bite the bullet on this. It's the end of the line," said Sean Goldrick, a Democratic BET member and ardent supporter of the project. "You know life sucks. Prices go up."

Joseph Pellegrino, chairman of the BET's Budget Committee, called the option of removing the balcony a non-starter.

A Republican, Pellegrino urged the school district not to treat the project in isolation of other pressing issues such as racial imbalance in the schools, space utilization and the implementation of a costly digital learning program.

"You need to start taking a holistic approach as a board to providing the best education possible in this country of our pupils," Pellegrino said.

Leslie Moriarty, the school board's Democratic chairman, said the district is doing its best to prioritize.

"The Board of Ed has been very up front about the issues facing us," Moriarty said.

No decision was made on which avenue the district will pursue on the auditorium project.

In contrast, the school security initiative was a slam dunk.

It's been three months since a heavily armed gunmen smashed through the glass doors of Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children age 7 and younger, as well as six female educators in the worst rampage of its kind in U.S. history.

The interim appropriation must go before the Representative Town Meeting for final approval in April.

The school district, anticipating there will be a demand for contractors to do similar projects in other Fairfield County municipalities, is eager to embark on the project in the spring and summer.

"Some of the work can move along quite quickly," McKersie said.

The 16-page interim report released by the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission specifically recommends that school districts install Internet protocol security cameras, which are capable of sending live video and data over computer networks.

"I am troubled by what sort of learning environment that creates," Goldrick said of cameras.

When the funding request was presented to the BET Budget Committee last week, Goldrick noted that Columbine High School had surveillance cameras at the time two students killed 13 people and then themselves in 1999.

Goldrick ultimately deferred to the recommendations of the special panel appointed by the governor, however.

"So in light that it was an authoritative commission that worked on that, I will withdraw my objections," Goldrick said.

The $1.4 million facilities initiative is the first of four prongs in a broader plan to beef up security in Greenwich Public Schools.

The district is weighing the addition of a second full-time school resource police officer to complement one assigned to Greenwich High School.

The increase in manpower would cost $80,000 to $100,000 annually in salary and benefits, according to McKersie, who said the second school resource officer would give police a presence in the three middle schools. The school board could vote on the position as early as the beginning of April, McKersie said.

The third prong involves additional training for teachers to identify threats and suspicious persons.

Lastly, the school district plans to revisit its entry procedures at each of its facilities.

McKersie said the commission's interim report is consistent with the planned improvements to school buildings.

"That's sort of the latest confirmation that we're on the right path," he said.

McKersie: Armed school guards not likely
Lisa Chamoff, Greenwich TIME
Updated 10:23 pm, Friday, January 18, 2013

The schools chief has indicated that despite pressure from some parents, it is not likely that armed guards will be placed in the town's schools.

Superintendent of Schools William McKersie told a crowd at the Riverside Association's annual meeting that the group of educators and town officials evaluating school security in the wake of last month's shooting rampage in Newtown is "strongly leaning not to add in more armed guards."

The first question McKersie received after his 10-minute presentation during the gathering at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Riverside Avenue was about whether administrators had come to a decision on hiring armed security officers.

McKersie said that during his meetings with other town officials, including Police Chief James Heavey, the group was mainly focused on other issues, such as access to schools and security procedures. He has also met with superintendents from other Fairfield County school districts.

"Most districts in the country will not be adding armed guards," he said.

There was a great deal of debate when Greenwich High School got its first school resource officer, an armed police officer integrated into the school community. McKersie said they have been discussing similar arrangements for the town's middle schools, but there has not been much discussion about putting officers at the elementary schools.

McKersie said the district would not cave in to public pressure to place armed guards in all schools.

"Whether or not we have armed guards in our schools will not be a parent decision," McKersie said.

Not all parents think armed security is the right answer, even after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Christina McGlone, whose daughter is a third-grader at Riverside School, said administrators should pay more attention to regular security procedures. She recalled volunteering for lunch duty at Riverside one afternoon after the Sandy Hook shooting, and noticing a car with New York license plates parked in the fire lane outside the school. No one knew who the car belonged to. Visitors, after being buzzed in, can sometimes make it past the main office without having to sign in.

"I think some of those procedural issues should be addressed before we jump to armed guards," McGlone said.

Bill Baxter, who has a pair of children attending Eastern Middle School and two children attending Greenwich High School, noted it would cost too much to put at least two armed officers at all 15 of the town's schools.

"Are you going to fire 30 teachers?" Baxter said.

The environment at schools like Riverside, where parents often volunteer, would also be changed, Baxter said.

"If you start making it a prison, something that's that secure, I think you lose that," Baxter said.

The group reviewing school security plans to meet this month to bring together data on the issues and map out costs of any changes that need to be made, McKersie said.

Student arrested for making school threat

Published 9:17 am, Saturday, January 19, 2013

TRUMBULL -- A Trumbull student has been arrested after making threats while leaving the school, about returning in a manner similar to the tragedy at Sandy Hook, police said.  The incident occurred at Cooperative Educational Services, located on Oakview Drive.

According to WTNH, staff members said a student at the school was being told he could no longer return there. The student's mother arrived to take him home and as he was leaving, he made a threat to return to the school in a manner similar to the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  Officers were immediately assigned to the school's two locations and police prepared a search warrant for the suspect and any weapons, WTNH reported.

James Patrick Ryan, 18, of 1181 South Ave., Stratford, was charged with second-degree threatening and second-degree breach of peace.  Bond was set at $25,000. He is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 28.

The incident was the second time this week a student made a school shooting threat.

On Wednesday, the Bridgeport Police Department's SWAT team raided the home of a teenager after he allegedly posted threats on Facebook that he was going to shoot up Central High School. Detectives from the department's youth bureau obtained a search warrant for the youth's home and the SWAT team went to the home shortly after 10 p.m.

Police spokesman Bill Kaempffer said school authorities notified police that the youth, a student at Central, had posted on Facebook that he was going to kill fellow students and that he was serious. The 16-year-old, who was not identified because of his age, was taken into custody without incident. Police said no weapons were found in his home, and his address was not disclosed. The youth was charged with first-degree threatening and was turned over to juvenile authorities.

The threats came a little over a month after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 20 first-grade students and six school staff members.

City's debt payments set to jump
Kate King, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 10:26 pm, Saturday, March 23, 2013

STAMFORD -- The city will pay 7 percent more next fiscal year to pay off its outstanding debt, but at least one finance board member thinks the Government Center is on the hook for even more debt than its books reflect.

Stamford will shell out $47.8 million for bond and related interest payments next fiscal year, according to the Office of Policy and Management.

The expense represents about 10 percent of Mayor Michael Pavia's $495.8 million proposed operating budget for 2013-14.

The city's payments are well within the acceptable limits outlined by credit rating agencies, Director of Office of Policy and Management Peter Privitera said. Rating agencies like to see municipalities make debt service payments equal to between 10 and 15 percent of their net general fund debt service, and Stamford will pay about 10 percent of its $501.3 million in outstanding debt next fiscal year.

Stamford maintains an Aaa credit rating from Standard & Poor and a Aa1 ranking from Moody's Investor Services. The city sold $50 million in 20-year general obligation bonds at a record-low interest rate of 2.25 percent earlier this year.

"We've never had any pushback from the rating agencies on our ratio of debt," Privitera said Friday.

But Board of Finance Independent Kathleen Murphy pointed out Stamford's debt service calculations do not encompass the Mill River capital projects and parking funds, which ended last fiscal year with $1.1 million and $700,000 deficits, respectively. The city also doesn't include the Water Pollution Control Authority, which spent $9.2 million on debt service in 2012.

The parking fund and WPCA are considered "self-sustaining debt" in the city's capital budget, but both agencies received city funding last fiscal year. The Government Center gave $176,500 to the parking fund in June to help cover operating costs. The Water Pollution Control Authority, which is supposed to finance its own operations through user fees, has used the city as a bank for years and is about $5 million in debt to the Government Center.

"Some of these entities aren't so self-sustaining anymore," Murphy said.

Privitera said the parking fund ran a deficit because the Board of Representatives lengthened its hours but did not raise its fees to compensate for the additional operating costs.

"Did we have to cover the deficit in the parking fund last year? Yes, we did, because they came up short," Privitera said. "But we're taking steps to make sure they end the year in-balance. I'm not worried whatsoever about the parking fund with respect to any effect on the city's debt."

The WPCA, however, regularly dedicates a large portion of its revenue to bond payments. Debt service ate up 40 percent of the facility's $22.8 million budget last fiscal year.

"The WPCA is drowning in debt," Murphy said. "They collected $19 million in revenue in 2012. And $9 million has to go out for debt service, before they pay for anything else."

Privitera said the WPCA's capital projects are financed through revenue bonds paid for by user fees, meaning it does not overlap with the city's debt service. But Murphy believes the sewage treatment plant and its customers are shouldering some debt that should be on the city's books.

A $3.8 million storm water management study for the Mill River Park, for example, was listed as one of the WPCA's capital projects at the end of last fiscal year. About $1.4 million-worth of city bonds have been appropriated to the project, meaning the WPCA pays debt service on that funding.

"All of that debt and the related debt service needs to come off their books," Murphy said.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection agrees. It has sanctioned the WPCA in recent months for not properly maintaining its infrastructure, and insists the sewage treatment plant turn over to the city hurricane barrier maintenance and other capital projects that are not related to wastewater management. The WPCA staff is working with city administration officials to accomplish this, DEEP Sanitary Engineer Carlos Esguerra said.

"In the short term, the SWPCA and the city have agreed to create a (memorandum of agreement) that formalizes how hurricane barrier and storm water-related costs will be transferred from the SWPCA to the city," Esguerra said earlier this month in an email. "SWPCA expects to have this memo approved by June 1, 2013."

Privitera said it is up to the Controller's Office to determine whether there is any WPCA debt service that needs to be moved to the city's books.

"If the auditors, Controller's Office and WPCA determine there's debt on the WPCA's books that belongs on the city's books and a determination is made that we have to carry that debt, then we'll find the appropriate way to do it," he said. "But as it stands right now I'm not aware of any directive to transfer debt off of the WPCA books and onto the city's books."

Murphy said she believes an upcoming independent audit of the WPCA, requested by the Board of Representatives and commissioned by the Board of Finance, will help identify any capital projects or related debt service that should be handed over to the city. The review will focus on nine financial and operational areas of the WPCA, including 10 years of capital projects.

The Board of Finance's Financial Policy Committee has established several new bonding policies over the last two years. As a result, the city has accelerated its payment of short-term bonds.

"The Board of Finance wanted to make sure that assets that are only useful for five years are paid off in five years," Privitera said. "Now we're accelerating the payments on the short term, which means our debt service is going to jump up."

The finance board, at the urging of Financial Policy Committee Chairman David Martin, has also changed the way it allocates bond premiums. Previously, this money was used to cover shortfalls in the city's operating budget or put into a Debt Service Fund.

The debt service reserve totaled $6.3 million at the end of last fiscal year, Privitera said. City officials plan to use $3.3 million of that amount to mitigate this fiscal year's debt payments and $2.2 million to offset next fiscal year's debt service.

"We basically reduced the debt service payment, which in effect reduces taxes," Privitera said. "That's the way we used to do it in the past."

This practice cannot be repeated with the $2.5 million premium made off of the city's recent $50 million bond sale, however. A recently-passed Board of Finance policy requires the administration to put the money in a fund used for capital projects and maintenance.

"If we're going to commit to pay this money back, I want to get an infrastructure project out of it," Martin said. "Not use it now to pay taxes. When you borrow long-term money, you want a long-term asset to go along with it."

Looking to take advantage of the low interest rate climate, Stamford has sold more bonds than usual over the past two years. This, coupled with the new finance board policies, has increased the city's debt service.

"I don't anticipate any significant jumps moving forward; I think it's going to level off," Privitera said. "But at this point we had a jump up last year and we had a jump next year and we'll have to see where we go after that."

Stamford's debt service has hovered around 9 or 10 percent of the city's overall operating budget since 2005. Norwalk, which approved a $288.2 million operating budget in fiscal year 2011-12, paid a similar ratio of debt service -- 9 percent. New Haven's $475.4 million operating budget was only $9 million larger than Stamford's last fiscal year, but the city dedicated more, 13 percent, to debt payments.

Martin, who is running for mayor in November, said he is keeping a close eye on Stamford's debt service but feels the city's payments are appropriate.

"Our debt service ratios are fine," he said. "The fact that it's fine should not be used as an excuse to hide operating deficits or fund wasteful capital spending. But we still owe it, we have to pay it, so whining about it doesn't help."

Murphy said she is worried the debt is growing too quickly.

"I'm sure with the city's growth we're going to have significant capital expenses," she said. "But we don't have an unlimited ability to do everything and everything now."

Board of Finance Chairman Tim Abbazia and Board of Representatives Fiscal Committee Chairman Jay Fountain did not return calls for comment Friday.

Panic buttons in, security guards out of new school budget
Public to get say on budget at Thursday hearing

Maggie Gordon, Stamford ADVOCATE
Published 11:51 pm, Tuesday, January 29, 2013

STAMFORD -- Superintendent of Schools Winifred Hamilton amended her budget request Tuesday night, trimming $400,000, while adding seven kindergarten teachers, two bilingual teachers and doing away with the request for security guards in the city's elementary schools.

Two weeks ago, Hamilton unveiled a $245.4 million operating budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which represented a 3.66 percent increase over the current year. Her changes, announced during a fiscal committee meeting, bring the request down to $245 million, which is slightly less than a 3.5 percent increase.

The kindergarten teachers will be added to most of the city's 12 elementary schools, which would bring the average class size for kindergartens below the 20-student mark -- a request that several board members have tossed at the superintendent over the past couple weeks.

"I want to thank Dr. Hamilton for being responsive to several of our requests about the kindergarten," Board member Jackie Heftman said.

The new positions, which combined with an additional request for another two bilingual kindergarten teachers will cost $612,000, will be partially offset by trimming two science teachers at both Stamford and Westhill high schools, as well as opening up one teacher vacancy at each of the schools.

"My intent was to not hopefully have to lose staff," Hamilton said Tuesday night. She noted that all but one of the teachers who will be affected are certified in other areas, so shifting throughout the staff will likely allow the district to absorb most or all of the positions instead of resorting to laying off staff.

Much of the savings comes from a shift in thinking in terms of school security. Originally, Hamilton included a $600,000 request to hire a security guard at each of the city's 12 elementary schools. But her new request instead includes a $260,000 item to equip every staff member at each building with a panic button.

"This system ¦ would basically be able to accommodate every staff member in the building with a device that would automatically in pushing a button, would call three numbers, including fire and police," Hamilton explained.

"If a teacher was in the cafeteria and saw somebody in the yard with what looked like a weapon, they wouldn't have to go back to their classroom, or find a security guard. They could push a button and the police would respond right away," she said.

The new thinking is partially shaped by the public reaction to the security guard setup, according to the superintendent.

"As much as they've been terrific, people are asking, do they have a gun? How much does one person help?" Hamilton said, ticking off a list of questions she has been fielding from parents around the district since she installed temporary security guards at the elementary schools shortly after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Board member Rich Lyons questioned the idea, asking for information about false alarm rates and defects before the board made a decision.

"I think you might want to hedge some money in that account. They're good in certain situations, but I'd love to see what the false activation rate is, and what the response time is," Lyons said. "Post Sandy Hook, you're talking false activation with 60,000 police, fire and 911 responding."

Other board members questioned adding kindergarten classes without equipping each new section with a paraprofessional. In previous budgets, the city has always provided one paraeducator per kindergarten section. Hamilton said the district is not contractually obligated to provide a one-to-one ratio of paraeducators per kindergarten classroom and that Stamford has a higher ratio than most surrounding districts. Board members Lorraine Olson and Polly Rauh both asked to tack more paraprofessionals onto the request.

"I'm really, really impressed, and I congratulate you for being this creative," Olson said. "But I was wondering if we could stay at 3.6 and put a para in for kindergarten for everybody."

Heftman asked that the $393,000 saved in Hamilton's trimming be added to a "security reserve," noting that "it's hard to cut, but it's impossible to add" to a budget. In the end, the board decided to go forward proclaiming both the 3.49 percent increase and 3.66 percent increase options to the public during the public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. at Westover Magnet Elementary School, at which members of the public will have their chance to voice concerns about the budget.


Wilton Schools Seek 4.4 Percent More In 2013-14 Budget
Wilton Daily Voice
Jan. 25, 2013

WILTON, Conn. – Wilton Public Schools will request a nearly 4.4 percent increase in the  2013-14 Board of Education budget.

Superintendent Gary Richards and the Wilton school board unveiled a $77.3 million spending plan for the next school year to parents and other Wilton residents on Thursday. The spending package is 4.39 percent more than the current budget approved by voters last year.

Employee salaries make up the bulk of the budget, accounting for $45.77 million. That total is $1.41 million more than what is being spent on salaries this year. Employee benefits will make up $15.1 million of the proposed budget, about $506,000 more than 2012-13.

Several parents had questions about plans to move to daily all-day kindergarten instead of having a pair of half-day sessions. Marissa Lowthert said she’d like for the board to reconsider it so parents could have more time to discuss it.

“There hasn’t been much time for parents to think about it,” she said, noting there is research that shows full-day kindergarten can be detrimental. “Wilton has a unique program where children get small-group instruction and the Wilton Schools are recognized for developing well-rounded children.”

Kara Berghaus supports the budget, but hopes district officials can encourage a platform to focus on preschool and have more money and staff put toward it.

“I feel like it (preschool) needs more attention. The population is increasing … and the need for special services is increasing.”

Richards said the district will wait to hear from a newly formed security committee before making many changes in school security. Many school districts have started focusing on building security following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last December.

The Wilton school board is expected to vote on the budget proposal Feb. 7. The Wilton Board of Finance will review the proposal March 27.


Manchester West High closure on the table
School board members - especially vocal West Side member John Avard - caution that nothing has been decided. But the words of a redistricting report have reverberated throughout the West Side, which worries its landmark high school may close within two years.
By MARK HAYWARD, New Hampshire Union Leader
23 Feb. 2013

MANCHESTER - It can be found nestled in Page 8, embedded within Recommendation No. 3, of the redistricting report that was quickly written this year by outgoing school Superintendent Tom Brennan.

School board members - especially vocal West Side member John Avard - caution that nothing has been decided. But the words have reverberated throughout the West Side, which worries its landmark high school may close within two years.

"With current enrollment numbers, there is capacity to consolidate the three (3) high schools into two (2) buildings (Central and Memorial)," the report reads.

West Side residents and school board officials point out that the report cautions against the consolidation and stresses that nothing has been decided.  But worries undeniably exist, given last month's under-pressure resignation of West High Principal MaryEllen McGorry, difficult school budgets and an ongoing dispute with Hooksett over city high schools.

"I don't know what to think of all the publicity," said Pauline Roth, a treasurer with the West High booster club. "It's pretty sad when you read about West and it's all a negative."

West High is the smallest of the city's three high schools. It schools 1,167 students, according to enrollments provided Friday by the school district. Of those, 143 are from neighboring Hooksett, which has said the city is in breach of its agreement to properly educate Hooksett high school students. The town wants out of the contract and wants to enroll its children in schools outside Manchester.

"Today, I have ruled out closing West, but I'm only one vote on the school board," Mayor Ted Gatsas said Friday. He also said there's no telling what the future will hold.

Ask him about West, and Gatsas talks about Hooksett. He said the tuition agreement calls for the city and Hooksett to discuss making West the designated high school for Hooksett, but those discussions haven't taken place. He said Hooksett needs to stop approving transfers to schools outside of Manchester. And he said the town should rescind its letter of breach.  Gatsas said many options exist for West. He mentioned turning the school into an academy, one of the suggestions in a 2007 report that was written after Bedford exited West. None of the recommendations were ever implemented.

He said West could become a STEAM academy - one where science, technology, engineering, arts and math are emphasized. "Certainly, we would want to make it the best high school in the state of New Hampshire," he said.

West Side residents said they embrace their school with as much pride as parents and students of Central and Memorial.  Gary Therrien, president of the West High Booster Club, said the media is not a fan of West.

But the school has its good points: A lacrosse coach recently restarted the program and raised enough money to purchase equipment. West is home to the city's only four-year theater program, which traveled to Scotland for a competition last summer. And West is also home to the city's only Junior ROTC program.  Therrien said he doesn't think the city will close the school, but it would be a detriment to the city.

"Most students at West walk to school because of its location. Many students that now get to play sports would not be able to at the other schools because they have only played for a year or two," he said. "Closing West is an easy solution as opposed to redistricting the city."

Avard said closing West would affect 1,000 students. He said West is not half-empty, as many believe. It also is the magnet school for autistic children and children with emotional disorders; they need smaller classes than the average student, he said.

He also disputes recently publicized remarks that school board committees unanimously approved recommendations on what to do about West. The Manchester school board recently told Brennan to go forward with revisions to elementary school boundaries, but neither committee has acted on the recommendations that involve West, Avard said.

"It's an open question," Avard said. "There's no set plan being brought forward saying this is what they're going to do."

The report does cry for action.  Manchester school enrollment is down about 1,500 from what it was seven years ago.

Over the next nine years, city school officials see little change in city school K-12 enrollment, which will vary from 15,243 to 15,705, according to projections. At present, 549 of those students are Hooksett high school students, most of whom attend Central or West.  The report notes that in 2007 recommendations were made to convert West into a charter school, a magnet school or an academy.

Both Therrien and Roth have a simpler notion: redistrict city high schools to even the population and bring more students to West. As a smaller school, West has lost girls' field hockey and lacrosse, Roth said. And Avard has fought a recent plan to set minimum class sizes, worrying about the effect on West.

However, both the 2013 and 2007 redistricting proposals said it would be difficult to move students who live east of the Merrimack River to West High. School locations and water barriers restrict boundary adjustments, the reports say.

The 2013 redistricting proposal notes that Northwest Elementary is overcrowded, and it encourages a fresh look at controversial 2007 recommendations for the West Side. Those called for:

-- Turning the three West Side elementary schools into early elementary schools (pre-K through Grade 3).

-- Converting Parkside Middle School into an upper elementary school (Grades 4 through 6).

-- Hosting Grades 7 through 12 at West High School.

Physical barriers would have to be erected at West to keep the middle school students separate from high school students, Avard said. He's no fan of the idea.

"What are you correcting? What are you fixing?" Avard said. "It's not going to improve West, it's going to shuffle students from one school to another."

Manchester N.H. new police station on Valley Street is shown. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER) 
December 26, 2012 8:40 am: Good for the MPD to have space to grow and to finally be treated with the respect they deserve. The next obvious question is when will the educational staff in the city be given what they need to provide what the children deserve? 

Manchester police force's new home has twice the space, room to grow
By DALE VINCENT, New Hampshire Union Leader
December 25. 2012 9:56PM

MANCHESTER -- The phone number will be the same - 668-8711 - but that's about all when the Manchester Police Department moves into its new home at 405 Valley St.

The move begins Thursday, Jan. 3, when patrol, dispatch and booking will be working at the Valley Street site, with traffic and records still based at the 351 Chestnut St. site. On Friday, the records office will close at noon on Chestnut Street and reopen Monday morning at the Valley Street address, along with all other department operations.

Manchester Police Chief David Mara said the careful planning for the new building should ensure it will meet the department's space needs for the next 30 years.

There are extra lockers in the men's and women's locker rooms, a total of 265 for male and 39 for female officers, as well as more desks than are currently needed in several divisions and more cells than are needed on a daily basis.

"There's room for growth here," said Mara, who is convinced it will come, although he notes he won't be overseeing it...