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Auditorium Update, ‘No’ Vote For Transportation Consultant

Published: November 10, 2017

Along with hearing an update on the ongoing Newtown High School auditorium renovation project, the Board of Education also unanimously did not support hiring a contractor to look into transportation at its meeting on November 7.

While sharing an update on transportation, Interim Superintendent of Schools Lorrie Rodrigue said changes made near the end of October have allowed the “few buses normally late to be on a regular drop-off time during the morning drop-off at [Reed Intermediate School].” An implemented earlier dismissal for Reed has also “made it smoother” for shortened wait times at elementary schools.

As was announced on October 24, Reed Intermediate School began releasing five minutes earlier, at 3:32 pm, on October 30, and two bus routes were split to allow direct routes to Head O’ Meadow Elementary School and Reed, on October 27.

“Our average clearing time now in the afternoon is 4:31 pm,” said Dr Rodrigue, adding that she is working with district educators to increase aide time at lunch and recess to help alleviate inequities in elementary teacher schedules. The inequities, she shared, were highlighted by the recent school start time change, but the situation also existed before.

Later in the meeting, a motion to hire a transportation consultant failed unanimously. School board members Rebekah Harriman-Stites and Andrew Clure were not present for the meeting.

At the school board’s meeting on October 20, school district Business Director Ron Bienkowski presented two proposals for transportation consulting firms. The school board discussed hiring the firms — Transportation Advisory Services and TransPar — for review of the transportation system. The reviews would cost roughly $10,000 or roughly $12,000, depending on which firm is chosen, according to Mr Bienkowski.

Some board members voiced concerns at the November 7 meeting about spending money on a consulting firm, including Vice Chair Michelle Embree Ku who noted it is a time of “difficult budget issues.” Chair Keith Alexander questioned whether a consultant would offer “sufficiently different” information than what the school board would receive from All-Star Transportation.

Dr Rodrigue said she has been putting off working with a transportation task force until the school board made a decision whether to hire a consultant or not.

“I think the best move forward would be to have Dr Rodrigue’s team work with the existing transportation company in order to come up with the best plan,” said Mr Alexander, reminding the board they were speaking about plans for next school year.

Board member John Vouros said he has faith in All-Star Transportation and said he has other preferred ways of spending the money that would be spent on a consultant, such as supporting an increased music teacher position at Hawley Elementary School, which would make the position full-time.

Member Dan Cruson, Jr, said he was torn on the vote, and board Secretary Debbie Leidlein said she supports the district working with All-Star Transportation if board members felt there is a good “working relationship” between the company and the district.

Mr Alexander directed Dr Rodrigue to inform the board of any solutions that are found for the 2018-19 transportation system.

State Budget Impacts

Dr Rodrigue also shared an update on the state’s approved budget at the meeting.

“We now have knowledge of the amount of state aid, which will come through various state grants, including [from the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant program] and other grant programs,” said Dr Rodrigue.

Dr Rodrigue said she and Mr Bienkowski met with First Selectman Pat Llodra and town Finance Director Robert Tait. Without a new special education grant materializing, Dr Rodrigue said they spoke about the proposed restoration of approximately $1.03 million dollars to the school board’s budget by the Legislative Council.

“The approved state budget,” Dr Rodrigue continued, “does provide for $2,052,293 more in aid [to the town] than was originally anticipated in the approved local budget, therefore there are some other areas, as well, getting the potential restoration of funds once the town reviews their needs on their end.”

The news, Dr Rodrigue said, puts the district in a better, but not perfect, “place financially.”

When the school board unanimously voted for its Consent Agenda, it supported two student trips overseas with the Newtown International Center for Education (NICE), including the newly proposed trip to India, which was described to the board at its previous meeting.

NHS Auditorium Renovation Project Update

Although the second phase of the NHS auditorium and renovation project is on schedule, Newtown Public Schools Director of Visual and Performing Arts Michelle Hiscavich also told the school board that issues from the first phase of the project are being looked into, with the hope that they will not impact the second phase’s timing.

Wiring for lighting and sound is being installed, according to the update, and punch list items for Phase One are being checked. Some of the punch list items include taking down the stage curtain that was installed for the vendor to take care of stains on it and some pulls in the fabric.

Painters are being brought back to fix some issues, and Ms Hiscavich said solutions are being looked into for stains on the concrete floors that were sealed over.

“What we are trying to do is find out how they are going to get those stains off the floor,” said Ms Hiscavich.

The power test that is required for the certificate of occupancy is being scheduled for late in December, so the project is still on track to have the auditorium open for use in early January. Ms Hiscavich said that is positive news.

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