NAUGATUCK — The philosophy behind the borough’s unprecedented “tri-board” meeting between the boards of Mayor and Burgesses, Education and Finance was met positively by officials for its promotion of transparency and communication.
But at Monday’s first incarnation of the idea at Naugatuck High School, Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen L. Donovan suggested there had already been a communication breakdown, saying her board hadn’t received an agenda or a summary of budget numbers for the fiscal year until late Friday, at the earliest. She requested that, as the BOE hadn’t gotten a chance to review these numbers and compare them with BOE accountant Joe Tyson’s, the Board of Education portion of the meeting be adjourned and postponed until a later date.
Mayor Bob Mezzo, who also sits on the BOE, said, “I accept some of the responsibility for the confusion.” He added that scheduling problems had played a part. “I thought we were going to be ready. Unfortunately, we’re going to need more time,” he said.
Officials expressed frustration and saw the slip as a microcosm of greater, internal problems of the BOE.
“There seems to be a lack of urgency,” said Deputy Mayor Tamath K. Rossi. “We need to get a handle on this … I think it’s time we started pulling the trigger.”
The BOE is still working to close a projected $1.07 million budget deficit for this fiscal year. Donovan indicated that just about every account was trimmed as far as it could be trimmed, save for personnel line items, which account for the majority of the budget.
“We’re looking at everything, all the way down to custodial supplies,” Donovan said. “Such as asking, do they really need that many mops? It sounds silly, but it’s to that point.”
A much-discussed package of concessions—which, at conception, could have included unpaid furlough days, deferred payments, and early retirements—was rejected in talks between Naugatuck Teachers League representatives and the BOE last week.
On one hand, Burgess Anthony Campbell noted irately that he didn’t blame the union, saying the teachers had already made “major concessions” in their original contract.
“To say they’re not doing their part is just wrong … they have to negotiate, they have to take care of themselves. There are a ton of things these people are willing to do,” he said.
But Donovan said the zero percent budgetary increase between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 fiscal years didn’t line up with the roughly $1 million in contractual obligations the BOE had in the form of raises in borough teachers’ salaries.
Board of Finance member Don Carten took a more direct tack: “If the union refuses to work with us, the next step is layoffs,” he said. “Layoffs are the 500-pound gorilla in the room. No one wants to lay anybody off, but [the students] are young; they’ll get over it.”
Donovan noted that there was more to it than that. Layoffs would affect unfavorably the academic program, other teachers, ancillary staff, and class sizes, she said. In addition, steps need to be taken to ensure the schools maintain their accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Rossi noted, “If layoffs become a reality, they need to be spread equitably … and include administrators.”