Members of the New Haven Board of Education took a break from last week’s high-tension debates about transportation issues, meeting at 54 Meadow St. on Monday to instead discuss some of the district’s longer-term woes.
Board president Darnell Goldson and members Yesenia Rivera and Matthew Wilcox gathered in an unusually relaxed boardroom for a Finance and Operations Committee meeting, approving various funding requests before discussing the district’s search for a new chief financial officer and potential responses to the current budget crisis. While last week’s full Board meeting saw scores of angry parents, Monday’s gathering proved the opposite — allowing the committee to progress uncharacteristically quickly through its short agenda.
Board members mostly discussed cost-saving techniques, which were read aloud by district parents and Budget Mitigation Committee member Jill Kelly ’91 FES ’19. Established at the end of last school year, the Committee created seven money-saving measures, including analyzing property costs and reducing the budget of the district’s central office. By the end of the meeting, the Board approved further discussions on six of these items, as well as added proposals like furlough talks and negotiation of the terms of several outside contracts to be presented to the full Board.
However, Board members rejected a suggestion to eliminate part of the district’s teacher payment procedure. Usually, teachers earn a salary commensurate with their experience, but adopting one of the Committee’s suggestions would cap salary growth after eight years. This means that a teacher with eight years of experience would earn the same as a teacher with fifty years of experience. All three Board members present immediately rejected the suggestion, citing the possible loss of experienced teachers to other school systems. However, Kelly argued for the opposite.
“So hiring teachers at the fifteenth year is not essential to student learning,” Kelly said at the podium. “It’s not essential to staff performing their tasks. It’s a nice thing to have, but in an environment where we have to make some cuts it might be something to consider letting go.”
Before ending the meeting, the Committee also discussed the district’s dire need for a chief operating officer, who could play a key role in mitigating the district’s deficit. According to New Haven Public Schools Director of Human Resources and Labor Relations Lisa Mack, the district’s search committee has already interviewed four applicants, while another two are scheduled for interviews on Thursday. If the search committee — which includes a member of the teachers’ union and an assistant superintendent — decides upon a candidate, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Carol Birks can opt to nominate that applicant to the position.
This week’s committee contrasted starkly with last week’s full meeting, during which the district’s ongoing transportation fiasco took center stage and prevented Board members from discussing solutions to some of its long-term problems. In another effort to cut costs, the district had reduced the amount of bus stops around New Haven from 8,800 to about 4,000, resulting in hundreds of students stranded with no transportation to and from school.
As a result, parents mobbed last week’s Board meeting at the Celentano School with complaints. Some students, they argued, now had to walk several miles through unsafe neighborhoods to class. Some parents had lost jobs because dropping off their children at school led to lateness to work.
At Monday’s meeting, Kelly mentioned that while the Budget Mitigation Committee had initially suggested that transportation costs may merit a discussion about budget cuts, the current busing fiasco has led the committee to strike that particular item from the list of potential budget-cutting solutions. She also noted that the district’s decision to slash bus routes in no way originated from her Committee.
The three-member Finance and Operations committee handles the major expenditures of NHPS, evaluating purchase requests and reviewing the district’s existing contracts.
Finance and Operations Committee meetings take place during the second and fourth Monday of every month.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org