Chairman’s View: Seeking More Transparency from School Leaders, column for June 6, 2018
Chairman’s View: Seeking more transparency from school leaders
BY BY JOHN ENGEL, TOWN COUNCIL CHAIRMAN, AND CRISTINA A. ROSS, TOWN COUNCIL
When the Town Council met earlier this year to review the upcoming Board of Education budget for 2018-19, we paid great respect to the challenge they face in providing excellence within 2% guidance alongside rising health care and labor costs. We wanted to approve the administration’s bold experiment to propose an ‘Alternative High School’ within the former Outback building, but it felt premature and the budget did not contain the detailed financial information we needed about a proposed Alternative High School for it to gain approval.
School leaders urged parents to attend the Town Council meetings to support the budget as presented, threatening that extra-curricular activities such as Model UN and favorite classes would be affected if any cuts in the budget were implemented.
Given the reductions in the budget request, it came as a surprise to learn, through the Board of Education (BOE) meeting last week, that the administration was moving ahead with their original plans for an Alternative High School.
Seeking transparency, finding surprise
I thought we agreed to reduce headcount through attrition. I thought we agreed to start the conversation together about how we could work together for long-term savings. We see job postings for Alternative High School openings are online. We thought we were shedding real estate, and then we read in the newspaper that BOE is discussing real estate for the Alternative High School program in private, because publicity of that could adversely affect the price. The price of what? Where is the transparency in this process? Where is the spirit of cooperation?
Connecticut statutes empower only the BOE to decide how their budget gets appropriated once approved by municipality funding bodies. The Board of Education members have delegated most of that responsibility, which is entrusted to them by their Bylaws, the New Canaan Charter and the state statutes, to the school administration, and those meetings are not open to parents, the press or Town government.
New Canaan residents and at least a few members of the Town Council are left wondering where did the money for these programs come from.
At a time of uncertainty with regards to property taxes and taxable deductions, we need to ensure that every dollar we collect is warranted. The approved education budget was not supposed to negatively impact the current special education program. We thought the budget would allow the school administration to continue current programing without any cuts.
If you really need an Alternative High School please have these conversations in the open. Invite the public and the Town Council in. Provide us some of the supporting documentation of its mission, approach, financial sustainability and success measures.
The BOE needs to follow its own bylaws with transparency, and when seeking financial support look to quantify the financial impacts. We need to implement prudent, fiscally conservative changes with success measures that are financially responsive to the needs of our community.