Letter: Republicans Keep High Standards on BOE

by Christopher O'Brien

Letter to the Editor by Katie Ciarlo

Recent political mailings and articles criticizing the Wolcott Board of Education piqued my interest and prompted me to look deeper into the information that was addressed in these articles.

In the 2012-13 school year, the Board of Education received two technology bids for the 2013-14 school year. The bid from Trifection was $237,450. The bid from the existing technology provider was $581,722. As a taxpayer, I would expect the Board of Ed to enter into the lower contract price, and they saved taxpayers $344,272 by hiring Trifection.

The contract was for two years. Services with the hither bidder would have been the same $581,722 while Trifection’s contracted rate to Wolcott for the 2014-15 school year was $295,000. Accordingly, the savings for a full year to the taxpayers would equate to $286,722.

Unfortunately, Trifection declared bankruptcy midway through the contract which resulted in a loss of six months of services in the amount $167,500. The Wolcott Board of Education had no way of predicting that Trifection would file for bankruptcy. It is important to note that even with the loss, the contract with Trifection still resulted in saving taxpayers $463,494. This savings represents the 2013-14 savings from the higher bidder of $344,272 coupled with the 2014-15 savings from the higher bidder of $286,722 minus the loss for nonperformance of $167,500 due to Trifection’s bankruptcy. Simply put, the Board of Ed still saved the school district $463,494.

It should also be noted that the original motion to accept the Trifection contract was made by Anthony “Tony” Casagrande from the Democratic Party. The motion to approve Trifection again in 2014-15 was made by Democratic Board of Education member Tom Buzelli.

The other issue raised by Democrats is the BOE’s annual retreat. Members give up their Friday afternoon, Friday evening and Saturday (some members are required to take a day off from work using their own vacation time). The Board members ate both lunch and dinner while working and meeting in the conference room. Members of both political parties attended- Republicans and Democrats. The long retreat allows the Board to accomplish pressing needs without interruption.

Each BOE member commits to over 1000 as a full board. This doesn’t include committee work. That is equivalent to someone working 40 hours per week for 25 weeks. Yet, State Law prohibits Board of Ed members to receive any pay or stipend.

What should be the focus of this upcoming election is the positive recognition and academic excellence the Republican led Board of Education brings to our students. The Board has received four leadership awards from the Connecticut Association of Board of Education (“CABE”). Only eight school districts in the entire state received this award this year. Our schools have won additional State and National awards under the Republican led Board of Ed. The Connecticut Association of Schools named Alcott Elementary School as the 2013-2014 Outstanding Elementary School of the Year. Wolcott High School was named by Newsweek Magazine as one of the Top 500 High Schools in America. Recently Wakelee Elementary School has been named as a Blue Ribbon designated school. This is one of the most prestigious awards that a school can receive.

The Republican led Board of Education is the most fiscally conservative in the State of Connecticut. The Wolcott School District consistently comes in at 169 out of 169 school districts in the state in spending as a result of Wolcott having the lowest in per pupil expenditure.

The Democratic Party has wrongfully attacked the Republican led Board of Education and I wanted to share the facts with the public. The Republican led Board of Education needs to stay in place. Their experience is needed as a new Superintendent comes into the district in late November. New candidates will be expected to maintain the level excellence that the current board has achieved. I seriously question whether these new candidates will be up for the challenge. As the old adage says, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it!!!!”

 

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  • Kathy CT

    Having served on the BOE for two years the 1000 hours figure that each member served is not correct. Maybe if you added up all the times there was some sort of meeting, job interviews, expulsion hearings, contract negotiations, and attendance at school events, that 1000 hour figure might be justified. Yet, not every BOE member attends all these things. I attended every BOE meeting, every expulsion hearing, every budget meeting and several school events and it came nowhere near 1000 hours in 2 years. There were some members who never attended an expulsion hearing, a sports banquet, or an Honor Society function. That’s not a criticism. They have lives, jobs, and children to attend to. I just take issue with the assertion that each BOE member commits over 1000 hours during their 2 year term.

    As for the two big issues….. the retreats and the Trifection debacle:

    The idea that the BOE needs to be secluded, away from disruptions and interruptions, runs counter to their charge as a public board. Freedom of Information rules, enacted by law, state that all meetings are open to the public except for executive sessions, which can only be called for very specific reasons, and none of the topics discussed at the retreats warranted an executive session. What interruptions would there be? Interruptions from family? Everyone has cell phones and I’m sure Board members answered their phones or checked their text messages. Interruptions from the public that they serve? There would be no time for the public to speak at a retreat; they could only observe. Wouldn’t it be informative for once for members of the public to see their BOE members in action, discussing important topics and getting a sense of how their elected officials feel about the issues? Discussion doesn’t happen at regular televised BOE meetings. Any discussion takes place at the subcommittee meetings before the regular meeting. These meetings are open to the public but most people don’t know that.

    No other BOE in the state hold retreats out of town or overnight. The BOE violates FOI rules because they do not post notice of this special meeting and its agenda online. There are no minutes taken.

    They also violated FOI rules when they approved the Trifection contract in February, 2014. It was voted on in a finance committee meeting before the televised regular meeting; it was not listed on the agenda; it was not even mentioned in the finance committee report during the regular meeting.

    I agree that the BOE saved money going with Trifection rather than ACES and it was more than they lost with the Trifection bankruptcy. But then again, they are now contracted with NSI for IT services, and according to the July 20 minutes, that contract is $144,000 per year through the 2016-2017 school year, much lower than ACES or Trifection. Granted, that may not include all the services and personnel Trifection provided, but maybe the BOE could have been more thorough in exploring their technology service possibilities.

    What is not being addressed in any of the letters supporting the present BOE is the fact that texts between the superintendent and the Trifection CEO proved that the superintendent was aware of Trifection’s financial problems at least 6 weeks before they folded and when the CEO texted that he was out of options (he couldn’t make payroll), three days later $20,000 was handed over to the troubled tech company because the superintendent authorized an additional contract for services beyond the original contract, and that work was never completed. That purchase order was signed by the Board chair as all purchase orders are. The BOE did not hold the superintendent accountable for that $20,000 payment.

    The comment that two Democrats made the motions to approve the Trifection contracts and that somehow that should show their complicity is a stretch. It does show that both parties are on the same page if that is what the comment was implying. If you have ever watched a BOE meeting you will see that it’s a race to see who gets to make a motion, a motion that everyone knows is going to pass because it has been discussed in the committee meetings beforehand. It has nothing to do with party affiliation.

    As for the accolades the district has received…. Yes the BOE provides the resources and can take pride in the district’s accomplishments, but those who work in the schools every day — the teachers, administrators, and staff are the ones who earned that recognition. Wolcott High was one of the top 500 high schools last year, but wasn’t on the list this year, so it shows that placement on these lists is just a data crunching game. Has Wolcott High changed in a year?

    Wolcott’s per pupil expenditure has been among the lowest three in the state for at least 10 years, and that was under Boards that were led by both the Democrats and Republicans. Once you’re at the bottom it’s impossible to move up without a huge increase in expenditures. So the present BOE is not performing any magic there.

    When Election Day comes, 9 of the 12 candidates will be elected which means that at least 5 of the incumbents will retain their positions. Maybe it’s time to get some new blood on the BOE. The BOE needs to be more transparent. The present BOE members are good people but they have become too complacent, disregarding FOI rules, and not keeping as watchful an eye as they should have on certain situations.

    Kathy Cordone

    • Christopher O’Brien

      Thank you for replying.
      Yes, the two Democrats – Mr. Buzzelli and Mr. Casagrande made the motions to approve the contracts. We checked the February 24th 2014 minutes.

      Should it be a race… a game… to do that? Absolutely not.
      Should the Board even discuss the contract so that everyone knows how they would vote? Well, that seems to violate the State’s Open Meetings law, doesn’t it? While yes, it is likely that some contract will likely be approved, discussion even by disjointed telephone is illegal under FOI rules.

      I think residents should question Mr. Buzzelli’s and Casagrande’s silence on the Trifection issue.

      As for the out-of-state retreat, there is no excuse. We regret not mentioning this above. Such a conference could be held in town – just as other towns do. Need more space? There are three colleges in Waterbury -two of them public. Certainly those could serve as venues. Secondly, any kind of meal that was served should be considered payment to Board of Education members. I’m sorry that they don’t get paid, but that’s the law. Its not Wolcott’s law. But there are reasons why it is state law.