Controller to manage BOE budget

Wayne McAllister (right) will pull double duty, for now at least, serving as both the borough's controller and the Board of Education's business manager.
Wayne McAllister (right) will pull double duty, for now at least, serving as both the borough's controller and the Board of Education's business manager.

NAUGATUCK — The borough will have one business manager to oversee both the school and town budgets, at least temporarily.

The Board of Education on Tuesday voted unanimously to rescind its previous vote to hire a business manager for between $95,000 and $105,000 a year. The board also voted 6-2 to allow Superintendent Dr. John Tindall-Gibson to work out a plan with Mayor Bob Mezzo and Controller Wayne McAllister that would make McAllister head of both the borough and school financial departments on a temporary basis. The board did not say how long McAllister would serve in both roles.

Mezzo and former Mayor Mike Bronko suggested giving McAllister a bump in pay to run both departments. The most recent offer Mezzo put up was to pay McAllister $11,250 over his annual salary of $89,400.

Tindall-Gibson, Mezzo and McAllister will discuss terms of a contract, and the school board will decide how long McAllister will remain in both roles.

Most board members said they believe the combined business manager position should be a temporary job until the board figures out a plan to get its finances on track.

Earlier this month, the school board voted to hire Pamela Mangini, who works in the finance department for the town of Orange, as business manager, contingent upon a contract being signed by the school board.

Mezzo, a school board member, said the borough should not hire any more school employees while it contemplates laying off teachers to close a projected $1.3 million budget gap. Although he fought hard for McAllister to serve in both roles, Mezzo said he doesn’t view this as a personal victory.

“I view it as an opportunity for the town and the Board of Education to work together with a very competent business manager to get through a very difficult budget problem,” said Mezzo, who commended Tindall-Gibson and board members for their decision.

Tindall-Gibson previously said the school and town business departments were too big for one person to handle. When asked at the end of the Tuesday’s meeting why he had changed his mind, Tindall-Gibson said he had not. He would not comment further, other than to say the school system welcomes McAllister because “he is a competent business manager.”

School board members Rocky Vitale and Thomas McKirryher voted against bringing McAllister on board. They said the school system should have its own business manager.

McAllister, who could not be reached for comment late Tuesday, will oversee the borough’s $47 million budget as well as the school system’s $56 million budget. The school board also recently hired an accountant who earns $60,000 a year.

The school system’s former business manager, John Petuch, resigned in the spring after he was criticized when two annual audit reports discovered financial mismanagement and shoddy accounting practices.

The Board of Education is in the process of solving a $1.3 million budget deficit and could decide as early as Oct. 5 whether closing the gap will cost teachers their jobs. One assessment of ongoing negotiations between the school district and the Naugatuck Teachers League confirms what has long seemed apparent: Position cuts are unavoidable.

Last week, the board gave Tindall-Gibson permission to negotiate concessions from the union, in an effort to save as many jobs as possible. After the first negotiation session, held Monday, NTL Vice President Charley Marenghi said balancing the school budget without handing out pink slips is an impossible task.

“It’s like pushing a stone up a hill,” he said, “and it just keeps rolling right back.”

Details of the negotiations have not been made public, but Tindall-Gibson outlined several possible measures last week:

  • Three or more unpaid furlough days, which would save an estimated $553,345
  • Early retirement packages, which, if accepted by 25 teachers, would save $645,812
  • As many as 14 layoffs, saving $786,807

The proposed layoffs include four guidance positions throughout the district, two high school English teachers, and one position each in social work, social studies, science, mathematics, art, physical education, music and world language. K-12 coordinators and high school department heads would need to increase daily teaching time from three periods to five to make up for the staff reduction.

The projected early retirement savings estimate accounts for the replacement of 19 entry-level—and therefore less expensive—teachers.

Even if the union, which is in the first year of a three-year contract, agrees to furlough days and other concessions, Marenghi said they won’t be enough to keep all of the borough’s roughly 400 teachers employed.

“There’s just no way to get to $1.3 million [without cutting jobs],” he said.

Staff writer Brendan Cox contributed to this report.