Finance Director Resigns After 4 Months with Region 4 Schools

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — After less than four months on the job, Kelly Sterner, finance director of the Region 4 Public Schools announced her resignation.  “Our Finance Director, Kelly Sterner has announced her intention to resign from the position later this fall,” said Brian White, Superintendent for the Region 4 School District. “Ms. Sterner is committed to supporting the district through this period of transition.” Sterner’s resignation comes after a year of frequent turnover in the district. The last full-time business manager, Kimberly Allen, resigned in November of 2019 following the departure of the former Superintendent Ruth Levy and the Facilities

More

COVID Forces Temporary Closure of Valley Regional High School

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — Two positive cases of COVID-19 among students at Region 4’s Valley Regional High School forced the school to shutter and resume fully-remote learning for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.  “We closed VRHS for two days this week, yesterday and today, to allow for contact tracing and the deep cleaning of the building,” explained Brian White, superintendent of Region 4 Schools, in a statement to CT Examiner. “This decision was made in concert with local health authorities and the State of Connecticut DPH.” In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID, the district is following a

More

Region 4 Schools Attempt to Move Beyond Years of Poor Accounting

With $245,745 to go, the Region 4 Board of Education voted to appropriate $158,215 from a surplus in the 2018-2019 budget to cover a deficit created by years of poor accounting practices in the district. The remainder of the 2018-2019 surplus, $43,000, will be returned to Chester, Essex and Deep River. Once returned, however, the board will be requesting that money back to help cover the cost of the deficit. “To designate the one percent statutory limitation you would have to have an unexpended balance operation in excess of the one percent to be able to transfer up to one

More

Proposed School Budget for Essex, Chester and Deep River Calls for a 2.87% Increase over 2019-20

/

ESSEX/CHESTER/DEEP RIVER — At $21.1 million, the revised proposal for the Region 4 Board of Education budget includes a 2.87 percent increase over the 2019-20 fiscal year.  In a public hearing and special meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday via Google Meet, Superintendent Brian White said the proposed $21,153,741 budget, which represents an increase of $591,066 over the previous year, was the result of work done in a series of budget workshops held from Jan. 21 to March 4.  “That is the budget that is before the board for consideration and that is a result of the

More

Virtual School Budget Meetings Scheduled Across Lower Connecticut Valley in Wake of Coronavirus

/

On March 10, as part of the state’s emergency response to COVID-19, Governor Ned Lamont signed Executive Order 7L, releasing regional boards of education from their statutory obligations to hold in-person meetings and referenda, prior to adopting fiscal year 2020-21 budgets: “[A]ny regional board of education shall adopt a budget for the July I, 2020 – June 30, 2021 fiscal year … without complying with any in-person budget adoption requirements, including but not to limited, annual district budget meetings requiring votes, referendum, and special district meetings.” The change follows a number of other restrictions on social gathering that have been

More

Declining Populations, Enrollments, Call into Question Viability of Elementary Schools in Essex, Chester and Deep River

/

The proposed Deep River Elementary School budget jumps by 5.08 percent this year compared with just 3.28 percent for Essex and 2.01 percent for Chester. The increase for all three towns is driven primarily by the 5.5 to 8.5 percent increase in employee benefits, in particular the long-underfunded health insurance reserve. Re-negotiated union salaries and a town energy efficiency project loan are also contributing factors in the budget growth. Yet, despite this large increase, Deep River’s $5.53 million budget brings the projected cost per pupil to $23,538 — that’s more than $3,000 less per pupil than Chester’s projected cost. Essex,

More

Board of Education Debates Funding, Equity, of Cooperatives, School Sports

/

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — Region 4’s Board of Education debated sharp disparities in budgeting for regional cooperative school sports at a Monday night meeting In one instance, members of the boys and girls hockey team pay $900 and $1,100 each, while athletes in 28 other sports offered by Valley Regional High School don’t pay to participate. “We have a responsibility to make sure it is equitable and correct this,” said Rick Daniels, a board of education member and Deep River resident. The boys co-op with East Haven began in 2018 and the girls’ program began this year with Daniel Hand High

More

After Essex, Deep River and Chester Selectmen Set 3 Percent Cap, School Board Debates Budget Choices

/

The proposed Region 4 Board of Education budget includes a 2.47 percent increase compared with last year’s budget, but after Wednesday night’s meeting, that number is likely to increase to 3 percent. That would bring the total budget for 2020-2021 to between $21.1 and $21.2 million. “The process this year was making up for the gaps, we wanted to provide for the programs, but also make sure we covered what has been missed in years past,” said Superintendent Brian White. “In the future, we want this discussion to be more value-based, but right now we are working with what the

More

Depleted Insurance Fund Spurs $2.1 Million Increase in Region 4 School Budget

/

ESSEX/DEEP RIVER/CHESTER — The amount allocated by Region 4 member towns to a health insurance fund for employees will likely increase by 18 percent, or $2.1 million, in the 2020-21 school budget. The increase comes after several years when the regional school district depleted the reserve due to a combination of increased medical expenses and a decrease in funding allocated to the account. Across all four school districts in the region and the Supervision Committee, the proposed increase to the budget item will grow from $6.5 million to $8.6 million. “Right now, given the claim history we need to build

More

Regional Complexity, Declining Enrollments, Weigh on Region 4 Budget Talks

/

Declining student enrollment, shared staff and shortfalls in Regional School District 4’s reserves are expected to be significant topics of discussion as school boards of Chester, Essex, and Deep River craft five interconnected budgets for fiscal year 2020-21.  The district is anticipating a dramatic 5.2 percent drop in student enrollment heading into next year — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the district will be able to save costs as a result — Superintendent Brian White told the Supervision District Committee at a Wednesday night budget workshop. As of October 1, 2019, the district had 1,610 students enrolled in kindergarten through

More

Region 4 Debates Equity, Funding, for AP and IB Testing

/

Out of a budget of about $20 million, the Region 4 Board of Education spends 0.2 percent, or $36,000, to subsidize half the cost of Advanced Placement exams, or $47 per test for every student. At Tuesday night’s board of education meeting that funding was called into question. “We bring this up because most schools do not pay for the actual fee for the testing, the idea was to get in line with other schools,” explained Jane Cavanaugh, vice chair of the Region 4 Board of Education. Across Connecticut such subsidies for AP exams on the district level are uncommon.

More

Region 4 Board of Education Seeks Fresh Start with New Year

/

ESSEX-DEEP RIVER-CHESTER — Hope for a fresh start was evident at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Region 4 Board of Education, after months of tense meetings and board turmoil, beginning with the announcement of an interim business manager, Richard Hewitt, replacing Kimberly Allen, who resigned from the post in November. “Mr. Richard Hewitt will support us through our day to day operations and budget season. Meanwhile, we are going to be talking more about what a process should look like for hiring the next business manager, or what that position should even look like. Is it a business manager role

More

Region 4 Schools Draft New Finance Rules, Tackle Unanswered Questions

/

Earlier at a November 4 special meeting of the Region 4 Board of Education, board members and members of the public peppered the district’s attorneys with questions about the $380,000 purchase of the Mislick property in 2017. Last week, superintendent Brian White reported back with some – but not all – of the answers. Although the district did pay $14,295 in legal fees for the 13-acre property prior to the official purchase, according to Shipman and Goodwin, the district did not pay any of the nearly $20,000 of legal fees incurred after the closing, as some members of the public

More

Deep River Taxes Still Accruing on Region 4 School Property

/

When the Mislick Property was purchased in 2017, the first selectman of Deep River – the town hosting all of the Region 4 school properties — broached the topic of the district paying taxes to the town. “The reality is I believe and Deep River believes that there should be some sort of compensation for the schools that are all located in our town,” said First Selectman Angus McDonald. At the Wednesday night meeting, after an executive session discussion with legal advisors from Shipman and Goodwin, the Region 4 Board of Education said they would be working with the three

More

High Costs, Diverse Outcomes for Educational Special Needs in Connecticut

///

Sarah Tyszka’s son is in sixth grade, but reads at a preschool level. He has dyslexia, a condition that typically requires one-on-one reading instruction to learn to read and write, according to the Dyslexia Society of Connecticut. Last year Tyszka’s son received one-on-one instruction, but this year his school does not have a teacher certified for that instruction. “He clearly needs intense intervention to be successful, yet they lie and say he’s getting small-group instruction, when in reality that means he sits at a table of four in a classroom of thirteen,” Tyszka said. “He’s not learning to read in

More

Attorneys Offer Timeline, But Few Answers on Region 4 Land Purchase

//

DEEP RIVER — Residents and elected officials from Chester, Essex, and Deep River asked questions and offered criticism of the Board of Education for Region 4 schools, and its attorneys, at a special Monday night workshop devoted to a controversial 2017 land purchase for $380,000 that board members later discovered had not been budgeted. “You don’t have much of an answer to anything,” Charlie Barton, a Chester resident, told the board and their attorneys. “That’s one of the problems here. I want to know who said to go ahead with this. That should be forthcoming — either the regional superintendent, the

More

Letter: Mounting Legal Fees, Blurred Lines in Region 4 Schools

//

This Monday, November 4, at 6 p.m. in the John Winthrop Middle School library in Deep River, three lawyers from a Hartford law firm will explain the nuances of the property purchase next to the high school over 2 years ago. Hopefully they will explain why they charged fifteen thousand dollars to close a three-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar cash deal — with no bank work. Since the closing — again over 2 years ago — we have spent at least another fourteen thousand plus on this same purchase and same firm to clean up title problems, and fight with Deep River over the

More

Letter: After Legal Fight Without Clear Cause, Region 4 Shows Better Judgment

//

Two concerns about Region 4 are raised in Julia Werth’s article about recruiting fee-paying Chinese students through SPIRAL. One will likely prove to be unwarranted; the other seems to require a more fulsome explanation. We should not be too worried that Asst. Superintendent Kristina Martineau was reimbursed to house summer campers once the district was contractually obliged to accept them. Region 4’s contract with SPIRAL set a modest reimbursement rate that was available to anyone willing to provide a similar service. Thus far, based on publicly available records, Dr. Martineau doesn’t appear to have received special treatment, nor does she

More

Shoreline Schools Look to Foreign Students to Meet Enrollment, Diversity Goals

///

IN THE REGION — For the past five years, East Lyme High School has welcomed between six and ten international students from China into their community. The students are recruited by SPIRAL International, a Vermont-based student exchange program, which pays East Lyme High School $19,000 per student. This year, however, just one student is participating in the program. “Due to the big political climate between the two countries, a lot of students are afraid of coming to the U.S. this year,” said Jia Shi, the program director at SPIRAL International. “For this year, yes it is becoming harder to recruit

More

Region 4 Essex-Chester-Deep River Schools Omitted Boys Activities, Costs from Title IX Compliance

//

ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 was passed to prevent discrimination in any education program or activity, including sports, based on sex. The idea is that boys and girls are given equal opportunity to participate in all federally-funded activities. To be in compliance with Title IX, districts not only need to keep track of expenses, they also need to monitor use of practice fields, gymnasiums, locker rooms, team rooms and timing of games. The district needs to show that they are making an effort to provide equal opportunities in sports

More

Navigating Local Education for Students with Special Needs in Connecticut

//

There are 77,000 students in the state of Connecticut with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), nearly 15% of the total student population of about 530,000 in 2018-19, according to the State Department of Education. For students with various disabilities that can impact their learning in a traditional school environment, an IEP is a written agreement between a school district and a family that provides a modified plan of education, services and resources. “It is supposed to be everyone looking at the information and making a decision about what is appropriate for the child together,” said John Flanders, the executive director

More

After Spending $23,771.50 to Challenge FOI Request, Region 4 Drops Appeal, Institutes Reforms

//

ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — On Thursday, the Region 4 Board of Education voted to drop an appeal of a two-year-old freedom of information (FOI) request by an Essex resident. The litigation had cost the district $23,771.50. The request was originally made of the Region 4 board of education and superintendent on September 12, 2017 by James Carey. According to the Freedom Of Information Commission which was handling the appeal, Carey requested “all external and internal communications regarding the district’s plans to, and subsequent engagement of, SPIRAL International to provide foreign student services to the District, including, but

More

As Details of Land Deal Come to Light, Region 4 Schools Look to Move Forward

//

ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — In August 2017, Regional School District 4 purchased the 13-acre Mislick property without an independent appraisal. The district relied instead on a seven-month-old appraisal completed for the seller, Essex Savings Bank. That appraisal was labeled “for Estate Planning Purposes and, the only intended users are Rogin Nassau LLC and Essex Savings Bank and/or designated affiliates.”  The appraised value was for the full 38-acre property, including the buildings, of which only 13 undeveloped acres were purchased by the school district. And because the purchase was a cash transaction with funds thought to be set

More

Letter: Focus on Region 4 Superintendent “misplaced and distracting.”

//

To the Editor: Singling out newly-hired Superintendent Brian White as the focal point for your editorial about Region 4’s finances is misplaced and distracting. (“Hard look at Region 4” September 29. 2019.)   Mr. White became superintendent of Region 4 Schools in July 2019 (only three months ago) when Dr. Ruth Levy retired after 11 years in office with two years remaining under her current contract. By the time of his arrival, the district had also changed facilities directors, business managers and many board members from those involved in the Mislick property purchase and decisions about capital accounting. So it

More

Editorial: A Hard look at Region 4 — Essex, Chester and Deep River

//

Perhaps you don’t live in Essex, Chester, or Deep River and have decided to skip over Julia Werth’s remarkably damning news story detailing years of failure to follow state law and to exercise adequate financial oversight, both by the superintendent and the school board. Well don’t. If ever there was a learning moment… it would be a forensic analysis of how the Region 4 school district managed to spend more than $379,000 on a piece of property, without a public vote as required by law and without having money set aside to pay for it. We’ll have more on that

More

Region 4 Board of Education Flouts Law, Runs $379K Debt in Error

//

In August of 2017, the Region 4 Board of Education, representing the towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex, spent $379,916 to purchase the Mislick Property adjacent to Valley Regional High School. The idea was that someday in the future the land could be used for additional sports fields. In a July 5 email, then-Superintendent Ruth Levy announced that the district’s offer was accepted and the purchase would likely be finalized within the month. “We are very appreciative of the entire negotiation process and your support in this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity,” she wrote in the email to the

More

Light Pollution — from Outer Space to Connecticut

/

“We made lights and nobody really thought about it and this light pollution thing just happened,” said Pete Strasser, the technical director for the International Dark Skies Association. Light pollution – the artificial brightening of the night sky – is often understood simply as the reason most of us can no longer see the stars. In fact, 99 percent of Americans can’t see the Milky Way from where they are living according to a World Atlas of Artificial Sky Brightness recently produced by an international research effort led by Fabio Falchi, a researcher at the Light Pollution Science and Technology Institute

More

No Explanation for 38% Decline in Vinal Technical High School Enrollment that Bucks Statewide Trends

/

At the start of the 2013-2014 school year, 656 students attended Vinal Technical High School in Middletown. By last year, that number had dropped to 407. The schools serves students from across Middlesex County, but this year the towns of Clinton, Westbrook, Old Saybrook, Essex, Deep River and Chester combined to send just 24 students to the school, down from 44 in 2016. Vinal lost 38 percent of its student population. That’s a dramatically different number from statewide enrollment in technical schools which have declined less than 1 percent, a loss of just 51 students. Public schools overall saw a

More

As Massachusetts and Rhode Island Begin Aerial Spraying, Mosquitoes in Southeast Connecticut Test Positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis

/

In 14 towns clustered mainly in southeast Connecticut, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) has been identified in mosquitoes capable of biting and transmitting disease to humans. Two horses have also been infected with the disease and euthanized. “It looks like right now we have quite a bit of activity primarily in the eastern part of the state. The areas of greatest concern are Voluntown, North Stonington and Stonington,” said Theodore Andreadis, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station. “The activity we are seeing in the entire northeast is unprecedented. I’ve never seen this much activity from New Jersey up through Massachusetts.”

More

Essex Second in the State on Improved Scores; New London Beats Average; High Needs Scores Jump

//

On average, just 45 percent of third- through eighth-grade students met individual growth targets on the state’s Smarter Balanced standardized tests during the spring of 2019. In other words less than half of the students are making adequate strides in education this year, explained Ajit Gopalakrishnan, the chief performance officer for the State Department of Education. In Essex, however, the picture is very different. Although the district — which ranks 12th in the state in English Language Arts testing, and 26th in math — may not be the top performing school in the state or region, almost 90 percent of

More