Though the New Haven Board of Education is currently ensnared in a legal battle with the Board of Alders, its Finance and Operations Committee meeting on Monday was business as usual.
The meeting had two primary focuses: a presentation of a proposal by the New Haven School Construction Program to update infrastructure at three local schools — Strong 21st Century Communications Magnet and SCSU Lab School, Quinnipiac School and the West Rock Author’s Academy — and an effort spearheaded by Victor De La Paz, New Haven Public Schools chief financial officer, to establish financial equity among the Elm City’s public schools. The two newly elected members of the BOE — Edward Joyner and Darnell Goldson — both present, took the opportunity to get up to speed on issues in the city.
“Because we have two new board members there’s kind of a renorming that’s happening, and re-education of things that most of the established committee members don’t question,” De La Paz said.
Robert Lynn, director of the New Haven School Construction Program, and NHPS Chief Operating Officer William Clark presented the construction project to the committee. The proposal involves constructing a new building at Strong Magnet School and renovating a building at West Rock Author’s Academy. For Quinnipiac School, the proposal involves either renovating or demolishing a school building in place of a new one.
At a minimum, the Strong and Quinnipiac School projects would cost the city $19 million. The estimated completion date for those projects is August 2019. The West Rock Author’s Academy project currently has no financial estimate, but it is expected to be completed by August 2020.
Clark insisted that these upgrades for the school infrastructure are necessary given the high cost of work orders needed to maintain the old building.
“There’s water coming through the ceiling; there’s window repairs … At some point, you’ve got to replace that roof,” he said. “The kids are wearing coats in the winter and sweating in the summer … [The project] remains, in our opinion, a no-brainer.”
Clark also noted that the construction project would create jobs and enhance the resources those schools offer to special-needs students.
For the most part, the other committee members reacted positively to the proposal.
With regard to establishing financial equity across schools in the district, De La Paz explained that his goal is to ensure schools have the same amount of money per student. He stressed that his team took an “integrated approach” to planning this project, which included meeting with management from multiple departments of each school.
De La Paz acknowledged that the process of achieving financial equity must happen slowly.
“It’s clear to me that getting to equity in one year is going to be very painful for some schools and in some cases overly generous to others,” De La Paz said. “Getting to equity in a way that we can manage is important.”
De La Paz’s plans include a 7 percent reduction of the BOE central office budget in order to save money and “make room to do things for schools.”
Though the Board of Alders recently filed a lawsuit requesting that Daisy Gonzalez be removed from the BOE, Gonzalez, the chair of the committee, was present at the meeting.
Gonzalez said she remains focused on her work in the board despite the controversy.
“We all come in knowing that the most important thing that we’re going to tackle is what’s going to be best for the students,” Gonzalez said.
The Finance and Operations Committee’s next meeting will take place on Feb. 16.