“Keep the cuts out of the classroom”
That's the priority expressed by interim Schools Chief Roger Lulow last week at the monthly Board of Education meeting held at Eastern Middle School.
With the town budget approved by the RTM earlier this month, Greenwich Public Schools has been directed to cut $450,000 from its budget before the start of the next fiscal year. Lulow read through a list of identified savings:
- a change in the electrical rate since the budget was submitted;
- savings in transportation costs;
- elimination in a minimally used commuter van for district employees;
- making interim appointments in the Central Office positions of Physical Education and Mathematics coordinators until the incoming superintendent has an opportunity to weigh in on the replacements;
- delaying a planned replacement of fitness center equipment at Greenwich High School for one year;
- savings in sick leave for staff and in the incoming superintendent’s actual salary versus the budgeted amount.
Lulow’s suggestions last week are short $79,000 from the $450,000 target, however, he stated he will identify additional savings this week.
In response not to Lulow’s proposed reductions, but to the RTM directive itself, Board of Education member Peter Sherr said “I’ve heard from BET members we continue to have too many administrators” and then questioned if this was an attempt to direct the district to make such personnel adjustments.
Prefacing his comments with the statement that he didn’t agree with such administrative cuts personally, Sherr went on to make a suggestion of his own, “I wish they would run for the BOE.”
“What does the BET expect to happen?” asked Sherr.
In a post-BOE meeting interview with Patch, BET Budget Chairman Joseph Pellegrino said that it would be "irresponsible if we did not take into considerations all facts about the BOE budget."
Pellegrino responded to Sherr's question. "We want a budget that is appropriate for the needs of the community. We want a budget that meets the teaching needs in the classroom for each and every student."
During the meeting, Board Chair Leslie Moriarty reminded Sherr and the board that the BET didn’t tie the reduction to “something specific” and reiterated Lulow’s mantra of “protect the classrooms.”
Fellow board member Steve Anderson explained that he felt the $450k calculation was based upon the BET publicly articulated estimate of what they believed was an appropriate staffing ratio. However, the Board of Education alone directly controls the 600 or compensation/benefit expense line. “They didn’t say we are supposed to increase class sizes,” said Anderson.
Concurring with Anderson's statement, Pellegrino told Patch that the $450k reduction should be of "no surprise" and considered "old news" as the BET felt that it was "an appropriate amount based on the change in actual versus budgeted student enrollment."
Bottom line, both boards agree with Lulow. Pellegrino's eye is on "the quality of education in the classroom."
Bacon, Egg and Cheese Light?
At the request of Greenwich PTA Council, the Opt-Out Healthy Food Certification recommendation by the administration was removed from the board's consent agenda "in order to discuss it for the benefit of the public."
The PTAC Wellness Committee has worked hard to raise "awareness and a commitment to improve cafeteria offerings both in health quality and taste, otherwise known as appeal to the consumer," said PTAC President Lisa Beth Savitz.
During the discussion, Operations Director Ben Branyan explained that the rationale behind opting out of compliance with section 10-215e of the CT General Statues is multi-faceted with many "nuances" and that Certification "comes with strings attached."
For example, at Greenwich High School 95% of the sales are a la carte menu items. Compliance with the certification would "force a dramatic change in the menu offerings and cause a much deeper erosion of its customer base and sales," states the District Decision Philosophy in the Administration's recommendation.
Branyan characterized this as as "disservice" using the very popular breakfast item of bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll as one example. Currently weighing in at 20 grams of fat, this item would not be allowed to be sold any longer as it exceeds the total fat allowance under the mandated guidelines by 2 grams.
Fat is just one example
Other than fat reduction, that hard roll would also need to be replaced by a whole grain or multi-grain alternative, which of course would cost more.
Branyan explained that by "opting-in" the district would receive a an additional 10 cents for every reimbursable meal served the prior year, which for Greenwich would result in about $50,000. However the district would "lose more" on sales creating a negative gain. The food service budget, recently praised by the BET as being a balanced once, would no longer be "revenue neutral."
"We are trying out best to meet the nutritional needs" of the district, said Branyan and even pointed to the fact that nutritional labels are provided at the point of sale.
While not asking that the board opt-in specifically, council would like to see the district move toward the state standards in fat and sodium for example.
"Let us not present this issue as a choice between nutrition and taste, but as an opportunity to provide both together," said Savitz.
The board voted 7-0 to accept the administration's recommendation to opt-out and thus the fat stays in.
"Walk And Chew Gum At The Same Time..."
That's how Lulow described the need to multi-task at the beginning of the meeting after a lengthy discussion amongst board members on honing in on the academic goal intended to "drive district actions for improved achievement."
"People expect us to focus on every subject area and do well in all of those areas," said Lulow expressing that he felt there are "dangers in having one single goal."
On the flip side, "we can’t focus on everything as this means you are not focusing on anything."
The board has already spent some time discussing which "type" of goal will be "most effective" including:
- Process goal versus results goal
- Visionary goal versus more obtainable goal
- K-12 goal versus leveraged indicator goal
- Single goal focused on one academic area versus multiple goals
Any academic goal is a good goal
Board member Barbara O'Neill said that she wants to see a plan rather than throwing "spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks." O'Neill said, "Even when we get good results we can’t sustain it because we don’t have a plan. Without that we are back at spaghetti."
Chairman Moriarty asked board members to submit a priority goal at their June 7 meeting.