Board of Education crisis coming to a head

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NAUGATUCK — It’s three months into the academic year, approaching the halfway point of the fiscal year and the school board is without a definitive plan to bridge a projected budget gap of at least $2 million.

Teachers are on edge. Parents are irate. Officials are frustrated.

Even the students hope for a solution that doesn’t decimate schools through program cuts and mass layoffs.

All of them want to hear good news this week, but nobody can guarantee that news will come. The school board was supposed to make a decision, for better or worse, about how to save money at a meeting scheduled for Monday night at the Tuttle House.

As of printing, however, the board was expected to continue discussing possible savings that could be achieved through a new health insurance plan for school staff. As of Friday, the school board still had not released figures about how much the new plan would save, and it was unclear whether any of the three school unions or contracted staff would support the proposal.

Tuesday, the school board is expected to meet with executive members of the joint boards of mayor and burgesses and finance board, as well as Controller/School Business Manager Wayne McAllister, to discuss all options. The time and location had not been determined as of late last week.

There are at least four cost-savings proposals on the table, two of which are contingent upon Superintendent Dr. John Tindall-Gibson’s resignation. The school chief adamantly says he will not step down and that he’s part of the solution, not the problem.

Mayor Bob Mezzo, Deputy Mayor Tamath K. Rossi, teachers, and several students and parents have called for him to resign, but the school board has not taken a public stance. Tindall-Gibson, who earns $165,000 this year, not including health benefits, has been given glowing reviews by the board since starting here in 2006; earlier this year, the board extended his contract through June 2012. Officials say trying to fire Tindall-Gibson, which no officials have suggested, would likely end up in a legal battle and the borough could end up paying him a lot of money by the end.

Where that leaves the school system is anyone’s guess. Several officials interviewed last week said they had no idea what will happen this week. They also didn’t know whether the joint boards of mayor and burgesses and finance would vote in favor of the mayor’s proposal to give the school system $1.2 million, a plan that comes with many stipulations, including Tindall-Gibson’s resignation.

Mezzo says the situation is taking a toll on the entire community, but he attempted to lighten the mood a bit during a recent interview.

“I can’t say what will happen this week, but I know we’ll all be rooting for the Greyhounds over Ansonia on Thanksgiving Day,” he said.