BOE to ask borough for $1m bailout

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NAUGATUCK — Despite several members’ concerns about its autonomy, the Board of Education voted Thursday night to request almost $1 million from the borough government to close what remains of a $1.55 million budget deficit.

As conditions of the bailout, the board agreed to retain borough Controller Wayne McAllister as its business manager through next fiscal year and to switch its insurance broker from USI Insurance Services to CBC Kane Partners.

It also approved concession packages presented by labor unions, which total $592,126. The total sum the school board will request from the borough will not exceed $955,906.

Though Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan (center) and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis objected to the borough telling the board which insurance broker to hire, the BOE voted, 5-3, to accept the conditions attached to a roughly $1 million supplemental fund request. Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Tindall-Gibson said he is optimistic that figure will shrink by the end of the fiscal year.

Though Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan (center) and Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis objected to the borough telling the board which insurance broker to hire, the BOE voted, 5-3, to accept the conditions attached to a roughly $1 million supplemental fund request. Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Tindall-Gibson said he is optimistic that figure will shrink by the end of the fiscal year.

Hours before the Board of Education met in front of about 80 people in the Central Avenue School cafeteria, the Naugatuck Teachers’ League, the district’s largest bargaining group, approved a concession package, worth an estimated $521,000.

“It is our hope that no layoffs will be required,” NTL Vice President Charley Marenghi wrote in an e-mail to Citizen’s News. “The teachers of Naugatuck have once again shown their commitment to the children of this town and are prepared to make the required fiscal sacrifice in order to preserve a high quality of education for Naugatuck’s children.”

Ninety-six percent of the district’s teachers voted on the package; 86 percent of those who voted signed off on the deal.

The NTL package’s savings center on two unpaid furlough days, May 28 and June 1, and one deferred payment day. NTL President George Macary explained at Thursday’s school board meeting that the district, which uses a 182-school-day calendar, could drop two days and still meet the state’s 180-day requirement. On the deferred payment day, for which a date was not provided, teachers will work but will not be paid until December 2011 or until they leave the district, whichever comes first.

The teachers also forfeited five hours of common planning time, half the total stipulated by their contract, which is in the first of its three years.

In return for those givebacks, the Board of Education agreed to establish a “sick bank,” which would allow teachers to donate unused, paid sick days to severely ill colleagues who need them, and to offer an early retirement incentive package.

Members of the administrators’ union agreed to work four days without pay, saving the school system $34,000 this year.

The concession packages were, in part, products of informal talks between unions and the Board of Education’s negotiating subcommittee, headed by Vice Chairwoman Barbara Lewis. Thomas McKirryher, a subcommittee member said he was displeased by the teachers’ final version because it included fewer givebacks than were discussed.

“I appreciate the administrators for giving their four days,” he said. “We met with them; they came back with exactly what they said they would do. We met with the NTL, we kept our end of the bargain on what we promised, and they came back with less than what we asked for. And there’s no way I could approve it.”

The board passed the NTL package, 7-1, with McKirryher dissenting, and the administrators’ package, 7-0. Mayor Bob Mezzo abstained because his wife, Eileen, is the high school’s dean of academic programs.

An ardent debate about the caveats of a borough bailout followed, with Lewis, board Chairwoman Kathleen Donovan and others contending the strings attached to a fund transfer—specifically that the school district hire CBC Kane as its insurance agent of record—essentially stripped the BOE of its right to interview prospective brokers.

“I think that the Board of Education should be able to work autonomously, and I have my concerns that an offer of supplemental funding … is tied to conditions,” Donovan said.

Board member Jim Scully argued handing CBC Kane the school system’s brokerage contract without a competitive bid process might allow the company to overcharge.

“We could ask 17 agents to come in and bid for what we’re asking for,” he said. “That’s all we’re asking for.”

“No,” Mezzo retorted, “you’re asking for $955,906.”

With the board struggling to weigh the importance of all but ending the current year’s budget crisis on the spot versus preserving its right to shop around for an insurance broker—a process that might have taken several weeks—Secretary David Heller seized the floor and delivered a roughly 90-second monologue that elicited three separate rounds of applause from the audience.

“We’re here tonight to be able to finalize and resolve a problem that has been hanging over us since the beginning of the school year,” Heller said. “It frustrates me that Mrs. Lewis and Mrs. Donovan seem to have some allegiance to an insurance agent that proposed $900,000 in savings, which all of a sudden disappeared.

“I’m confused, I’m frustrated, and I’m dumbfounded as to why we’re not just switching and resolving our crisis tonight. What do we need a right to interview them for? How are CBC Kane gonna do any worse than USI has done for us? How can we get in any worse a position now than we’re already in?

“We want to build a relationship with the borough. We want to build a relationship with our teachers and our administrators again. We want to have a Board of Ed. that’s moving us forward, not sitting around daggling.”

Moments later, Mezzo offered an amendment to the insurance-switch clause that would allow the BOE to not hire CBC Kane, if the company charged more than $60,000 per year. The board currently pays USI $80,000.

That cost cap satisfied the previously skeptical Scully, who turned out to be the swing vote. He voted to accept the borough’s conditions as part of the board’s transfer request, as did Mezzo, Heller, Rocky Vitale and Marya DiPerna. Lewis, McKirryher and Michelle Kalogrides voted against the measure; had Scully sided with the latter group, Donovan, as chairwoman, would have cast the tiebreaking vote.

The Board of Education will not make a formal fund transfer request to the joint boards until it closes the books on the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Tindall-Gibson expressed optimism that between now and then, the district may be able to shrink its deficit and ask for less than the $955,906 forecast.

“To be clear, we really believe that this is a solid number. It’s been scrutinized extensively,” he said. “Furthermore, we believe that we can drive our expenditures in a positive direction, and the number at year end will actually be significantly less than this. That’s our intent.”