NAUGATUCK — The Board of Mayor and Burgesses met Tuesday night to discuss and vote on routine agenda items like reappointments, bid approvals, and tax refunds, but the majority of the time was spent in burgess comment discussing an issue largely out of their hands—the Board of Education and its budget predicament.
Burgesses Bob Neth, Bob Burns and Anthony Campbell, and Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi were most vocal about the issue, publicly reprimanding the BOE for its overspending, purported lack of foresight, and problems adopting an operating budget even now, eight weeks into the academic year.
Neth, Rossi and Mindy Fragoso said never in their careers have they gotten such a vocal response from the community on an issue.
“People are upset, and people are embarrassed,” Neth said. “I’ve never had this many calls as a burgess in 10 years.”
Rossi said her phone was ringing “off the hook,” adding that the worst part of it wasn’t necessarily Naugatuck residents chiding or questioning her, but the humiliation of having outsiders ask what’s going on in the borough. The Naugatuck school system is the only one in the state without a budget.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” she said, “We need to teach responsibility and accountability to our children.”
Rossi then brought in the big guns when she cited a law under Connecticut General Statute section 10-222, which states “Expenditures by the board of education shall not exceed the appropriation made by the municipality … If any occasion arises whereby additional funds are needed by such board, the chairman of such board shall notify the board of finance, board of selectmen or appropriating authority, as the case may be, and shall submit a request for additional funds … no additional funds shall be expended unless such supplemental appropriation shall be granted and no supplemental expenditures shall be made in excess of those granted through the appropriating authority.”
The BOE broke this law when it overspent last year, Rossi said, adding “I’m not saying anyone should be arrested … but people are out, they’re upset, and they’re angry.”
Burns called the situation a “shame and a travesty.”
Burgess Pat Scully added that “responsibility should fall right at the feet of the Superintendant [of Schools Dr. John Tindall-Gibson]. … I hold him in full blame.”
Scully noted that Tindall-Gibson is the day-to-day manager of education operations, although the problem has stemmed specifically from BOE accounting.
Neth and Rossi have previously called for Tindall-Gibson to be fired, and the mumbled sentiment of the public attendance at Tuesday’s meeting seemed to coincide.
Burgess Mindy Fragoso said the question she hears from the public most often is, “Why teachers and not Tuttle, [the BOE administration]? … If there’s a problem, why don’t we start at the top?”
She added, “In private industry, I believe the term was, ‘heads would roll.’”
Mayor Bob Mezzo, who sits on both the Board of Mayor and Burgesses and the BOE, expressed his encouragement to voters to comment publicly at BOE meetings.
He’s also setting up quarterly tri-board meetings of the Finance Board, Board of Mayor and Burgesses, and BOE to ease communication and facilitate transparency between the boards.
“I hear different stories depending on what room I’m in,” he said. “The dialogue is drastically different.”
The first meeting will be held Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Naugatuck High School Media Center.