Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School chief blasts hiring, budgeting practices

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
April 10, 2007

VERNON - Interim School Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz on Monday blasted the way the Board of Education hires teachers and prepares its budgets, saying it becomes problematic preparing for next school year.

"This is not a good way to run a system," the former superintendent of Berlin schools told school board members. "You try and plan and devote a lot of energy, but you just as well could wear a blindfold and throw darts - you'd do just as well."

So far, 18 teachers have notified the board of their intent to retire at the end of the school year. And in keeping with state law, Paskiewicz in March had to inform 14 non-tenured teachers that their contracts might not be renewed in September.

State law dictates that school systems send teachers an automatic "spring non-renewal" notice prior to April 1 each year if there is a possibility their positions will not be retained next school year. If the notices are not sent, school systems lose the option of cutting those positions and must retain the teaching positions.

Added to the mix is a slow start to kindergarten enrollment and a lengthy, volatile budget season, making projections for hiring nearly impossible, Paskiewicz said.

The board gave Paskiewicz unanimous approval Monday to begin recruitment of replacement teachers for retirement positions. But because of indecision on the budget and early low enrollment figures, he plans to concentrate only on middle and high school positions, keeping the eight or so elementary slots open for now.

"I'd love to see a quicker end to the budget season," Paskiewicz said, pointing out that in Vernon it can run from January until the end of August. "How do you plan? I need to hire people, and I feel funny about doing that when I've told 10 they might not have jobs next year, especially in a tough, highly competitive subject with a dwindling pool of candidates" for subjects such as math and science.

By the time the budget is set and the school system can truly hire someone, candidates who are the "cream of the crop" have already found jobs in other towns, he said.

In Berlin, Paskiewicz said, he had a good idea of when the budget season would end, and people were not left hanging as they are here.

"I know what the teachers are going through - they have mortgages they have to pay, but kindergarten is a pure guess right now as to how many teachers are needed, and having multiple referenda doesn't help," he told board members, adding "You've all seen what's happening in this town with continuous budget referendums and cuts. You're falling behind. With every referendum you have, you have to cut more and you're losing ground.

"I don't typically complain but I'm going to complain about this," he said.

Mayor Ellen Marmer submitted her budget to the Town Council last month, recommending a $440,000 reduction in the schools' operating budget and a significant cut to capital improvements from $407,000 down to nearly $100,000.

Paskiewicz said he would have to consider larger class sizes and scaling back or terminating all-day kindergarten to meet the demand for cuts.

The mayor's proposed $75.7 million budget calls for a 7 percent increase in spending and is slightly more than $5 million over the current year's budget of $70.7 million.

Under the spending plan, which is now being debated among council members in a series of budget hearings, the tax rate will decrease by 8.69 mills, or 23.7 percent, down from the current 36.73 to 28.04 mills.

But with the recent revaluation, taxes are sure to go up on average 16.5 percent.

In the past, the Vernon school system has tried to minimize the number of non-renewal notices being sent out.

In 2003, only four teachers were tapped, while in 2004 six teachers facing layoffs resigned to work elsewhere, citing concerns about Vernon's budget as their reason for leaving.

The previous March, the school board gave 74 non-tenured teachers notice, as required by law, that their contracts would not be renewed.

The board, as it does historically, rescinded most of those notices. But for the six it was too late as they decided to accept positions in school systems where they felt they would have more job security, school officials said.

"Do we really have to do this? It's debatable," Paskiewicz said.

©Journal Inquirer 2007