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The Board of Education unanimously appointed Reed Intermediate School physical education teacher Aaron Blank at its meeting on August 15 as interim assistant principal at Newtown High School.
After accepting the resignation of former Superintendent of Schools Dr Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, at its meeting on July 18, the Board of Education unanimously appointed NHS Principal Dr Lorrie Rodrigue to be the district’s interim superintendent. With Dr Rodrigue’s appointment as interim superintendent, the Board of Education held a special meeting on August 2 and voted unanimously to appoint NHS Assistant Principal David Roach as interim NHS principal, which left one of the high school’s three assistant principal positions open.
“We have a new interim assistant principal,” said Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander after the board voted for Mr Blank.
Following his appointment, Mr Blank shared his appreciation with the school board.
“I look forward to serving our community and our kids,” said Mr Blank. “For the public that’s here, and everyone that’s here, just know that my door is always open. I would love to have any conversation with people that they would like to have.”
Mr Roach said Mr Blank, who started working at RIS in 2003, comes to NHS with a reputation of being a “solid” physical education teacher and he has shown the skills and qualities of an assistant principal.
“The only thing he was lacking was an opportunity,” Mr Roach said, “and thank you for giving that to him.”
“Wait And See”
When reviewing the Financial Report For July, which was presented by Business Director Ron Bienkowski, Mr Alexander questioned what would happen if Newtown does not receive grant support from the state.
As the July report was the first report of the 2017-18 fiscal year, Mr Bienkowski said he was not prepared to make predictions for the coming year, but he did highlight what the school board budgeted for Excess Cost and Agency Placement special education reimbursement.
“That of course is based on what the actual expenses will be when we submit a filing for December  and then again for March,” said Mr Bienkowski. “The budget number is $2,405,508.”
The school board’s budget, Mr Bienkowski continued, reflects the state’s current law regarding special education funding to school districts.
“Depending on how that plays out, that may change,” said Mr Bienkowski.
As reported by the Connecticut Mirror, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s executive order near the start of the month outlined plans to reduce state education spending by $506 million if the legislature does not adopt a budget by the time the first Education Cost Sharing payments are sent out in October. The plan would cut education aid to 163 towns to better help poor districts. The plan, as outlined, could reduce Newtown’s “fiscal year 2018” amount by $4,893,944.
Mr Alexander asked about the $4.89 million “if the governor’s proposal of cutting all of our funding goes through.”
“If it does turn out to be $4 million, then there is still an amount that they can cut from?” Mr Alexander asked Mr Bienkowski. After Mr Bienkowski concurred, Mr Alexander said, “And so we will wait and see.”
Following the meeting, reflecting on the impact on Newtown and on the ongoing state negotiations, Mr Alexander said he will work with Mr Bienkowski to further assess how the state budget decisions could impact Newtown. Mr Bienkowski said after the meeting that he is very disappointed in the state’s inability to get its act together.
Later in the meeting school board Vice Chair Michelle Embree Ku shared a draft of a resolution crafted to be sent to the state in response to general potential state budget impacts on Newtown.
Ms Ku explained, the resolution is modified from one that was circulated by Boards of Education across the state through the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE).
After discussion, the school board approved the resolution to be sent to the Governor and General Assembly to urge the provision of adequate funding at a minimum of the current level and a phase-in period over several years for the implementation of any changes in state funding for public education. The resolution also outlined that the school board and Legislative Council have already made significant budget considerations, and that further reductions when the school year is about to begin would “seriously disrupt the efforts to support the achievements of our students.” An amended version of the resolution was unanimously approved by the school board.
“That resolution will find its way to the state,” said Mr Alexander.
The school board also approved the Year End financial report for the 2016-17 fiscal year during the meeting.
“The district concluded the year with a remaining positive balance in the appropriated budget of $97,942 or 0.13%, which is classified as a unexpended year-end balance which is eligible to be deposited in the Non-Lapsing account,” the report reads.
Also during the meeting the school board discussed whether it will decide to hire a firm to oversee the search for a permanent superintendent of schools. Mr Alexander said the discussion will be brought up again at the board’s next meeting.
NHS Auditorium Update
The board also heard an update on the NHS auditorium renovation project at its meeting. Dr Rodrigue said the first phase of the project is nearly complete and phase two, which includes the theatrical package of sound, lights, and more on the stage.
“We are on target,” Public Building & Site Commission Chairman Bob Mitchel told the school board. “We should be substantially complete [on phase one] by next week… We are on budget, on time, [and] phase two is ready to start.”
Geralyn Hoerauf, senior project manager for the firm STV/DPM, said the seats in the auditorium are now fully installed.
Board members later asked questions around how the phase one and phase two items were funded within the approved budget for the project.
The school board also discussed its annual Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) at the meeting. The CIP will be brought up again, according to discussion, at the school board’s next meeting.
Transportation For The New School Year
Ahead of the start of the 2017-18 school year, Dr Rodrigue said she knows reworking the district’s bus routes was a lot of work for All-Star Transportation due to the change in start times for Newtown High School and Newtown Middle School.
“[But] I am confident our students are going to have a safe ride to school and I have talked to many parents and they are excited, even though they are reluctant and a bit hesitant on the part of what it is going to be like,” said Dr Rodrigue.
All-Star Transportation Co-Owner Rich Dufour and Newtown Terminal Manager Alan Colangelo were both present for the meeting to answer questions.
Dr Rodrigue also announced she sent a letter home to parents to describe aspects of the busing changes. Building principals also sent letters home, according to Dr Rodrigue.
Her letter addressed questions she has heard regarding the change in school start times. The current transportation plan, Dr Rodrigue wrote in the letter, was adopted by the school board to ensure the length of bus rides for elementary students remain the same as last year.
Other points in the letter include elementary and Reed students will share buses; elementary students will be dropped off at their respective schools first at approximately 8:45 am; after dropping off the elementary students, the buses will continue to Reed in time for the 9:05 am school start time. In the afternoon, Reed students will be shuttled to the elementary schools where they will transfer onto elementary buses to go home. Separate transportation arrangements were made for Reed students from the Sandy Hook district who prefer not to return to the Sandy Hook School site, and kindergarten to sixth grade students must ride on their assigned buses unless there are extenuating circumstances that have been approved in advance.
The bus routes are published in this week’s Back to School special section of The Newtown Bee. The routes are also available on the district’s website, newtown.k12.ct.us.
This story is an expanded version of the “School Board Hires An Interim NHS Assistant Principal” story posted on August 16.