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

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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

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

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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.

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Region 4 Board of Education Seeks Fresh Start with New Year

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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

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Department of Education Balances Work and College Prep for Connecticut High School Graduates

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In 2017, 70.9 percent of new Connecticut high school graduates enrolled in a college or university, according to the State Department of Education. Nearly 30 percent of Connecticut students joined the workforce with a high school diploma. In a statement this October, the State Department of Education underscored the need to provide public education that directly meets the needs of both career paths. “We strongly believe that Connecticut’s K-12 public education system must not only emphasize rigorous, well-rounded academics and citizenship, but also evolve to meet the needs of the state’s economy. In addition to providing pathways to college through

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Region 4 Schools Draft New Finance Rules, Tackle Unanswered Questions

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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

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Deep River Taxes Still Accruing on Region 4 School Property

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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

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Nonprofit Guides Board of Education Policy Across Connecticut

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Bob Rader has spent almost 25 years as executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (or CABE) encouraging elected board of education members across the state to follow a common set of best practices when working with fellow board members, the public and media. “We have no authority to police or regulate our districts,” Rader said. “Instead, we rely on them learning best practices and working with their superintendent to effectively lead.” This fall, hundreds of newly-elected board of education members will attend a full-day conference led by the registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, drawing from about 150 member

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Barely Half of Connecticut Students Meet Minimum Standard of Physical Fitness

A one mile run. As many sit-ups, and push-ups, as you are able. Sit and reach for your toes. It’s the physical fitness test that students, from elementary through high school, have taken in some form for decades, not that Connecticut students are getting better at it. In 2018-19, in fact, just 52.9 percent of students statewide met or exceeded a minimum standard of physical fitness. Only one school district in southeastern Connecticut – Deep River – met the state’s target of 75 percent, with a score of 84.3 percent. Statewide just 12 other districts met the state standard. “That’s

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High Costs, Diverse Outcomes for Educational Special Needs in Connecticut

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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Old Saybrook Public Schools a Model for Statewide Farm to School Initiatives

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A school lunch menu in Old Saybrook offers farm eggs from Branford, fresh-picked local greens and broccoli rabe, and yogurt from Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm in Old Lyme. “Our menu is studded with a lot of locally-grown and locally-made products including vegetables, but also meat such as Hummel Hot dogs from New Haven,” said Maureen Nuzzo, the food service director for Old Saybrook Public Schools. “About 10 to 15% of our food comes from local sources, and on any given day we have something on the menu.” Nuzzo said that ten years ago when she became food service director, her

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

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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

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Navigating Local Education for Students with Special Needs in Connecticut

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

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Editorial: Sexual Misconduct, and Taking Responsibility for our Schools

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Young people are the pivot around which everything turns. In southeast Connecticut, education budgets dwarf the size of most other town expenses. Old Lyme will spend about $27.5 million of the $38.9 million FY 2019/20 budget on education. Hand me a hot button issue – whether it’s 8-30g affordable housing or the balance of revenues between property taxes and income taxes – and I’ll show you most likely that a good bit of it comes down to how and where we raise our children. Quality schools are a major driver of property values, which attract the young, but also provide

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Budget Language Adds Flexibility For School Savings

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IN THE REGION — Between 2007 and 2017, the total public primary and secondary school enrollment in Connecticut dropped by 46,110 students, a decline of 8 percent. Essex, Deep River and Old Saybrook all have seen much greater losses with 32, 16 and 12 percent respectively. None of these declines were previously considered drastic enough to merit an exemption from the state Minimum Budget Requirement (MBR) – a law that prohibits most school districts in Connecticut from spending less on education than in the previous fiscal year. Language included in the recently passed state budget may change this. For the

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