Heidi Shea and Frank Pellegrini attended the Monday, Feb. 6, Board of Selectmen meeting with a message: "The Board of Education needs oversight from our Boards of Selectmen and Finance. Your 'hands-off' approach is no longer acceptable. Indifference is obsolete. Get constrictively involved."
Shea and Pellegrini provided the board with a packet of information they titled "Middlebury's Perpetual Dilemma." The dilemma is this, according to Shea and Pellegrini: The Region 15 school budget increased over a period of five years, while the student population decreased.
Some highlights from Shea and Pellegrini's presentation to the board are as follows:
- In the last five budget years, Middlebury's Region 15 budget increased by $4,267,200 - an average of $853,444 per year.
- The data from the presentation showed an increase in Middlebury's student population over those five years, but a decrease in Southbury's student population. When that data was factored together, the result was an overall decrease in Region 15's student population of 99 students over those five years, according to Shea and Pellegrini's report.
- Regarding union negotiations, Shea and Pellegrini feel the Board of Education is inadequate during union contract negotiation time.
"Unionized administrators and faculty are consuming 77 percent of the annual budget," Shea and Pellegrini stated in their presentation. "Regardless of the percentage of the school budget increase, union negotiators consume 77 percent of the budget for salary and benefits."
The two said they support the Boards of Finance and Selectmen making the Board of Education more formidable, in order to compete with the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition, or SEBAC.
"Elected officials in both Middlebury and Southbury annually eviscerate their municipal budgets to accommodate school board negotiated contracts," Shea and Pellegrini stated in their packet.
They acknowledged that a Board of Selectmen cannot control a Board of Education but feel that more can be done.
"As elected officials, it is your fiduciary responsibility to get directly involved," Shea and Pellegrini stated in the packet. "Regional school districts are governed by different state statutes but this does not give you immunity regarding how the primary line item cost will be created."
First Selectman Edward B. St. John said it becomes difficult to explain a declining school population and a budget that continues to increase.
"I look to our Board of Education to address that because this Board of Selectmen is very much powerless with what we can and can't do with Region 15."
Region 15 Board of Education member and Middlebury resident Paul Babarik offered up the following statement regarding the budget season.
"If it helps at all, we here in this room have dedicated ourselves to a zero percent budget [increase] this year," he said, referring to the Middlebury residents that serve on the Board of Education. "We are going to do our best to keep it below zero."