NAUGATUCK — Mayor Bob Mezzo has a plan to bridge the school system’s projected $2 million budget gap while avoiding massive layoffs and program cuts in the district’s 11 public schools. His plan includes a call for the resignation of School Superintendent Dr. John Tindall-Gibson.
In a proposal released Tuesday evening, Mezzo stated he’s willing to give the school system $1.2 million from municipal funds and to work five days without pay. His plan includes several conditions, including the resignation of Tindall-Gibson and a new school board chairman to replace Kathleen L. Donovan, by the end of the month.
“I don’t make decisions like this lightly,” Mezzo said. “This has been weighing heavily on me, but I just cannot sit by and watch our community suffer the devastation it would endure given the layoffs that have been proposed.”
The mayor’s proposal comes on the heels of a plan developed by Tindall-Gibson that showed the impact $2 million in cuts would have on the school system. The school board has a $56 million budget this year that could be underfunded by $2 million or more, depending on the amount of health insurance claims filed by the end of June.
Tindall-Gibson’s plan, which rocked the community on Monday, called for the elimination of 60 or 15 percent of the district’s 400 teachers; cutting three administrators; chopping the school day by 45 minutes; eliminating all special programs, including physical education, music and art at elementary schools; and eliminating freshmen sports at the high school.
Mezzo’s proposal would avoid all of that. But it requires significant funding from the borough, including $700,000 to bail out the school board’s severely underfunded health insurance plan, $300,000 to pay for an energy assistance contract, and a $200,000 transfer to the school board from the municipal contingency fund.
Mezzo, who earns $74,500 a year, said he would take five unpaid furlough days, totaling approximately $1,500. That money would be transferred to the school board.
The plan has to be approved by the joint boards of mayor and burgesses and finance.
Board of Finance Chairman Ray Lennon, Jr. said there are a lot of parties involved and agreements need to be made from all sides. But, he said, the board will consider Mezzo’s plan.
“I think the important thing here is the mayor has a plan to be reviewed other than mass large-scale layoffs, which is all we’ve been hearing so far,” Lennon said.
There are several other conditions in Mezzo’s plan that the school board has to approve, including Tindall-Gibson’s resignation. Tindall-Gibson, who earns approximately $165,000 in salary and fringe benefits, not including health insurance, has a contract that runs through 2012.
It appears the school chief has no intention of stepping aside.
“I’m part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Tindall-Gibson said. “We’ve been doing a lot of fixing since I’ve been here. There are a lot of people working on solutions, and I plan to continue working with those people toward extraordinary programs in our schools.”
Mezzo also wants $150,000 in cuts/concessions from school administrators; $100,000 in cuts/concessions from non-union school personnel; and a $587,500 concession from teachers that would include three unpaid furlough days and givebacks of common planning time.
Charley Marenghi, spokesman and vice president of the Naugatuck Teachers’ League, said the mayor’s proposal is “awesome.”
“This is leadership,” he said. “I cannot speak on behalf of the whole union until we meet, but, personally, I believe it’s a huge step forward. We finally have some leadership going on in this district.”
He said if the joint boards and school board can agree to the proposal, the NTL leadership “will bring our end of the bargain in for a vote and work as hard as we can to pass it.” The NTL plans a vote of no-confidence in Tindall-Gibson on Thursday.
School Board Secretary David Heller, chairman of the board’s communications committee, said Mezzo’s proposal is “terrific in terms of avoiding layoffs.”
“There are a lot of pieces that have to come together here,” he said. “I’m hopeful everything will work out and we can avoid the massive layoffs that appeared imminent last night.”
He did not condemn or defend Tindall-Gibson, saying he will speak with the rest of the board before commenting on Mezzo’s call for the superintendent’s resignation.
Donovan, the school board chairwoman, said she wishes Mezzo would rethink his proposal and allow the board to present its own cost-savings plan, which she said the board is working hard to accomplish. She said the board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Tuttle House Board of Education building to decide how to make up the projected shortfall.
“We are not asking the town to come in and bail us out,” Donovan said.
She also said she wholeheartedly disagrees with Mezzo’s call for Tindall-Gibson’s resignation.
“The mayor doesn’t have the right to ask anyone to resign,” she said. “I don’t see what good his tack will have. I think what the mayor is doing is a disservice and, quite frankly, a little unethical.
Apparently this is an attempt to embarrass certain individuals, but it doesn’t solve anything except cause more discord.”