Board of Education Addresses Audit, Steps Forward, for Essex, Chester, Deep River Schools

ESSEX, CHESTER, DEEP RIVER — Almost three years after Regional School District 4 made an unfunded purchase of property for $350,000, and almost a year after the board first became aware of the deficit, the state has requested a corrective action plan from the district. That purchase was made under the guidance of former superintendent Ruth Levy and former business manager Kimberly Allen. It all comes down to zeroes and ones and a lack of accounting expertise in the district’s business office that resulted in deficits in the capital sinking fund, cafeteria fund and health insurance fund — according to

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Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Clarify Reports of Cost Savings

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This Wednesday, Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education will vote on the first budget decrease in the district’s history. The $34.9 million proposed budget is 1.06 percent less than last year’s regional district budget. The current proposal is $180,000 less than the budget originally proposed in February. “The goal was to have a zero percent increase in payments for both towns,” said Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme Schools. “Originally, even though Lyme was seeing a reduction in cost, Old Lyme was looking at a $180,000 increase.” The nearly $200,000 in total savings from the 2019-2020 budget come from a refinancing

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U.S. News Ranks Groton Magnet 10th in State, Lyme-Old Lyme 17th, Old Saybrook 22nd

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Marine Science Magnet High School in Groton ranks 10th in the state and 532nd nationally of public high schools according to the U.S. News & World Report’s 2020 rankings. “LEARN’s Marine Science Magnet High School is a special community of intensely committed educators, students, and families,” said LEARN Associate Executive Director Dr. Ryan Donlon. “It is an honor to have the hard work and partnership of these three groups be recognized by U.S. News & World Report.” In Connecticut, 207 high schools were analyzed for the report and nationally 17,792 schools were included. The report highlighted Marine Science Magnet’s 100%

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Bipartisan Efforts in the Senate Address Shortfalls in Special Education in Wake of Coronavirus

As school districts await further guidance on special education during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) are pushing for the United States Department of Education to hold school districts accountable for providing a free appropriate public education as much as possible. “Our education system is grappling with the transition to distance learning due to COVID-19, but now is not the time to backtrack on our commitment to provide a quality education to all students with disabilities. Instead, this is a moment where Congress needs to provide additional guidance and resources to schools to make

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As Connecticut Schools Adapt to the Coronavirus, Stark Gaps in Educational Opportunities Raise Questions About the Future of Distance Learning

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On March 16, every school across Connecticut was closed, and for the first-time remote learning was the only option for primary and high school students. Within days, the inequity of the learning opportunities offered was abundantly evident as some students with computers and internet available at home were able to continue their studies, while others lacked access to the technology and internet connection. “Today students in some places are getting distance education, but others are not. If this were to carry on for any length of time you’d have a case under the relevant statute law,” said Richard Kay, a

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With Draft Guidance from CABE, Schools Adopt Emergency Procedures for Pandemic.

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In an effort to provide superintendents with the ability to make decisions quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education drafted an emergencies and disaster preparedness policy that school boards across that state are adopting. “Two issues prompted me to draft this,” said Vincent Mustaro, the senior staff associate for policy services at CABE and the former superintendent of Clinton Public Schools. “The current situation requires having to make decisions quickly or change a decision quickly based upon guidance from the federal government or the state. Also, succession planning. What if the superintendent becomes disabled and

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Risk, Insurance, and Reopening Schools After the Pandemic

With every new disaster, comes new risks. With every new risk, comes a potential market for insurance. “We are not going to see immediate changes to plans or products that would cover the pandemic, but over time as we learn from this, we will begin to see some products that will be offered related to pandemics,” said Sean Kevelighan, the CEO of the Insurance Information Institute. At present, schools are not covered for financial losses caused by the pandemic or by health impacts if an outbreak were to occur at their facilities. Schools with self-funded health insurance plans do, however,

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Public and Private Schools Adjust to Cornovirus, Plan for Summer and Fall

Less than a month ago, for schools across Connecticut, it was business as usual… planning for Spring Break, gearing up for sports tournaments, rehearsing plays and musicals and — on the horizon — graduation. “On March 4, I gathered the faculty together and said this COVID situation doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. We may need to, at some point in the fourth quarter, have some sort of distance learning,” said Mark Fader, the Head of School at Williams School in New London. “I finished the meeting by saying I’m preparing you for something that in all likelihood won’t happen.”

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

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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

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Learn from Home Task Force Takes on Equity and Coronavirus for Distance Schooling

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More than 185,000 book packages and 60,000 laptops will be purchased and distributed to students in the state’s 33 lowest performing school districts by the Governor’s COVID-19 Learn from Home Task force in an effort to bridge the widening achievement and equity gap during the extended school closures. “Few things are more important to Governor Lamont than a fair and equitable response to remote learning,” said Nick Simmons, the manager of strategic initiatives for the Governor’s office. “It’s no secret that we have a very wide achievement gap that could get wider by six months away from school. There are

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With Newfound Flexibility and Instructions to Proceed “Immediately,” Connecticut Schools Grapple With Transition to Online Education

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With the requirement for 180 days of school instruction waived, and an application pending to suspend mandated student assessments, school districts across Connecticut are grappling with what it means for 77,000 students with an individualized education plan, and how they will follow instructions from the state to “immediately proceed” with online education. “We are focusing all of our energy and efforts on supporting students and their families during this national emergency, including students with disabilities,” said Miguel Cardona, commissioner of education for the state of Connecticut. “Keeping students’ health and safety at the forefront, [Connecticut State Department of Education] is

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About That Distance Learning… Local School Officials Debate Legal and Technical Obstacles for Connecticut Schools

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LYME/OLD LYME — With schools in the state closed for a minimum of two weeks in a state-mandated effort to slow the spread of Coronavirus, school officials are looking into the option of establishing distance learning curricula, a first for public schools in the state. “The state has rapidly changed their position on distance learning,” said Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser, in a video-streamed special board of education meeting on Monday night. “On Friday they were discouraging it, but now they are looking at ways to make it available to every school and every district.” In fact, although the special

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

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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,

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Letter: Phrase “Wrong Side of the Achievement Gap” Sends Wrong Message

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Unfortunately, the debate between opponents and proponents of the CSUS consolidation plan resulted in the use of language that paid homage to a very traditional genuflection to ‘blame the victims.’   In this instance, the victims are the students in the CSCU system who were referred to as having come from the ‘wrong side of the achievement gap’ in the article, “As Labor Leaders Gather on Friday in Hartford, Faculty and Administrators Debate Consolidation of Community Colleges Across Connecticut,”  published March 6, 2020.  The value-laden and scornful phrase, “wrong side of the achievement gap,” sends the wrong message.  As a

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As Labor Leaders Gather on Friday in Hartford, Faculty and Administrators Debate Consolidation of Community Colleges Across Connecticut

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In the hopes of improving student outcomes and reducing costs for state taxpayers, Connecticut’s twelve community colleges are expected to be consolidated into a single accredited institution in 2023. “Students First will help improve the success rate of our community college students which is not good at all right now, the lowest in New England actually,” said Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. “It will address the equity gap that exists and thirdly put our community colleges on a sustainable financial path for the future.” According to Leigh Appleby, director of communications for the school

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Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education Approves Sustainability Committee For Local Schools

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LYME/OLDLYME — After two years of attending meetings, Karen Taylor’s call for a focus on environmental protection has been heard, and a Sustainability Committee was approved by the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education. “It feels so good, I truly feel listened to and heard,” said Taylor who has two children in the Lyme-Old Lyme Schools and works as a substitute teacher. “I really think this committee will allow us to coordinate efforts and make progress toward recycling and reducing waste in the schools.” The committee will advise the Board of Education and include 15 members drawn from teachers, Board of

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

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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

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

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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

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Debt Service, Retirements, Spur First Ever Decrease in Lyme-Old Lyme School Budget

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LYME-OLD LYME — For the first time ever, the Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education approved a budget with a 0.05 percent decrease compared to the previous year. The total budget decreased by $18,651 to a total of $35.07 million. “No programs were reduced, no staff members were cut, no facilities projects were shortcut,” said Superintendent Ian Neviaser. “In large part, the decrease is due to a significant decrease in debt service.” Because Lyme-Old Lyme owns the lands and buildings it uses, unlike a municipal district, it also carries its own debt service, allowing the regional district to reduce the overall

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Area Schools Show Jump in English Language Learner Enrollment

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Between 2015 and 2019 the number of English Language Learners in Westbrook Schools increased from 5.9 to 11.9 percent of the student body. As of October, that’s 89 students spread across grades kindergarten through 12 entering school without fluency in English. “We expected this population to rise, but it appears to have happened sooner than we thought,” said Patricia Ciccone, superintendent of schools in Westbrook. Although Westbrook has seen the greatest increase of English Language Learners by percent in the region, a broader trend is evident. Old Saybrook’s population of English Language Learners increased from 2.6 to 4.8 percent and

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

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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

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Experts Debate State Approach to School Safety

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“Initiating emergency lockdown,” an electronic voice announced from a speaker on the desk phone. A small red button on any phone in all four of the Lyme-Old Lyme school buildings can activate a “critical incident response,” a school safety procedure drilled twice each month.  “The state requires you to do at least one drill each month, at least eight fire drills and two lockdown drills,” explained School Superintendent Ian Neviaser. “We do two per month — sometimes lockdowns, fire drills, critical incident drills.”   That’s 20 drills each school year, in addition to class time devoted to safety training. As of

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Eligibility for Free & Reduced School Lunch Jumps in Semi-Rural and Suburban Towns Under New Formula

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In the last three years, Old Saybrook Public Schools has seen a 11.1 percent increase in students receiving free or reduced school lunch. Putting aside the issue of declining enrollments in the district, 227 students qualified for subsidized lunch in 2018-19, compared to just 100 students in 2015-16. “The reasons for the increase are hard to assess because the information is so highly confidential. I do not know the names of the students on free and reduced lunch, so [I] rarely become aware of who is receiving this benefit,” said Superintendent Jan Perruccio. “I will say that there seems to

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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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