NB Politicus

Rep. Sanchez Makes “Respect” for Early Childhood Educators A Priority As New Chair of Education Committee

Posted in Legislature, public education, state aid, state government by nbpoliticus on January 20, 2019

By John McNamara

State Rep. Robert “Bobby” Sanchez (D-25) is the new House Chair of the Legislature’s Education Committee who brings a strong background in early childhood education to his leadership post in the General Assembly this year.

Sanchez, a former New Britain Board of Education member elected to the House in a 2011 special election, shared his priorities at a League of Women Voters legislative breakfast January 19th at New Britain Public Library.

“Teachers in early childhood education are not respected,” said Sanchez, noting that most early childhood professionals entrusted with the care and development of pre-schoolers are not fairly compensated.  In Connecticut with its high cost of living, child care staff fare much better than the national average of $29,000 ($14 per hour), earning upto $40,150 ($19.30).  Advocates, however, say classroom teachers and aides not covered by union contracts can fall below the average.  On top of pay inequity, Sanchez also points to the requirement that all early child educators will need to hold bachelor’s degrees within a few years to meet accreditation standards. Getting those credentials means education expenses to make the grade as early childhood professionals.

Sanchez, a longtime case manager of early care and education and coordinator of the Fatherhood Initiative at New Britain’s Human Resource Agency,  knows the pay struggles of the people he works with every day.  Rep. Sanchez’ early childhood roots  go back deeper than you may know. “Bobby” is the moniker he uses on election ballots and with friends  — a name he probably latched on to when a teacher called him that at a Head Start classroom in New Britain when he was four years old. It may be that Sanchez is the first Education Chair who’s an alumnus of one of the Great Society’s most enduring programs that launched the movement for quality early childhood education for low-income children in the 1960s.

20190119-lwvlopes-0487(1)

State Rep. Bobby Sanchez LWV Legislative Breakfast  (photo courtesy of Frank Gerratana)

Sanchez’ views are in sync with the Connecticut Early Childhood Alliance and its Executive Director, New Britain BOE Member Merrill Gay. “Early childhood teachers are among the lowest paid profession in the state,” according to the Alliance in advocating for supporting the child care work force last year.  “Early childhood teachers often rely on Care4Kids, HUSKY, SNAP and fuel assistance to make ends meet.”

To address the issue, the Alliance and legislative allies such as Sanchez are likely to push for “an increase in the full-day, full-year rate to $10,000 per child for School Readiness and state funded Child Development Centers indexed to any increase in the minimum wage, a higher infant toddler rate in recognition of the much lower staff to child ratio, delaying the B.A. degree deadline, and providing a rate bonus to programs that reach the staff qualification goal so they can retain the staff.”

The Education Committee will be addressing a score of major issues in the 2019 session, including school safety, curriculum, the education cost sharing (ECS) formula for school districts and child care subsidies that can nudge the pay for early childhood teachers up a notch.

It may be a tall order to secure adequate school aid and child care subsidies with state government saddled with built-in deficits and the pent up needs of other key services in the state budget this year  But Sanchez and his allies in education are prepared to make the case to Governor Lamont and the General Assembly that better pay for those who care for the very young are smart investments for the state’s future.

GOP Alderman Hits School Board On Salaries But Rubber Stamps Pay Hikes, More Spending At City Hall

Posted in city government, New Britain Republicans, public education, Uncategorized by nbpoliticus on August 5, 2017

 

By John McNamara

The sometimes fragile relations between City Hall  and the Board of Education took a backward step this week over complaints from Ward 2 Republican Alderman Kristian Rosado appearing in the New Britain City Journal.

Rosado, in a front-page story in the City Journal , derided a unanimous BOE move on salary increases for three administrators,  pitting Rosado against BOE President and fellow Republican Nick Mercier.

unnamedRosado was joined by two BOE members, Sharon Beloin-Saavedra and Miriam Geraci, who either half-heartedly voted for the increases or didn’t stick around long enough to vote on the matter at a July 24th meeting.  Geraci, absent for the vote, objected because of uncertainty over the amount of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funds the city will receive in the unresolved state budget.  In a City Journal editorial, Editor Robin Vinci, often a mouthpiece for the Stewart administration on many issues, sided with Rosado.

The BOE, however,  unanimously approved three salary increases — a revenue neutral move, according to Mercier, because of a $49,000 cut in Assistant Superintendent Paul Salina’s compensation.  Receiving salary hikes were Chief Financial Officer Kevin Kane, Talent Officer Dr. Shuana Tucker and Assistant Talent Officer, Dr. Nicole Sanders, the principal of the North End School, who was promoted to the position.

 

City Journal Editor Robin Vinci, apparently confusing Dr. Sanders with someone else, falsely reported that Sanders is a member of the BOE.  By law, school employees cannot serve on the elected board.

Mercier, quoted in the City Journal, said “the chief financial officer is taking over as head of three departments, that warranted the salary increase. In terms of the talent office it was partially due to an increase in duties and responsibilities”  and making the salaries “competitive.” Mercier said the move is saving $20,000 in central office spending this year and will reduce administrative costs by $90,000 next year.

But Rosado lambasted the salary levels  as “outrageous and insulting considering that the average resident of New Britain makes under $40,000 a year,” saying more money should be going to classroom support.

By contrast, Rosado, in his capacity as a member of the Common Council, has been a reliable rubber stamp for Mayor’s office salary hikes and major budget increases on the municipal side of the ledger.  He supported Mayor Stewart’s budget that denied a very small increase for city schools.

No one questions Alderman Rosado nor the City Journal for casting a critical eye on how tax dollars are spent. But their critical eyes appear to be only wide open at the Board of Education. They are closed shut when it comes to salary hikes, increasing debt interest and all manner of discretionary spending by the Stewart administration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smalley Academy Renovation Cost Jumps To $53m; Public Hearing Wednesday, June 22, At Council Committee

Posted in Bonding, public education, School Construction by nbpoliticus on June 19, 2016

What’s behind a $53 million price tag for renovations to  Smalley Academy, a K-5 elementary school near downtown and North-Oak Streets?  That question should be on the minds of the Common Council after initial estimates by school officials were closer to $30 million last year. The earlier estimate by school officials was tens of millions of dollars  less than the amount now moving through approvals before the project goes to the state for bonding and to the city’s school building committee for bids and construction.

Smalley with an enrollment of 654 students is the next educational building in line for improvements in New Britain. The need for enhancement of the school is not at issue among educators, city officials and State Rep. Bobby Sanchez (D-25) whose district includes the Smalley Academy where more than 70 percent of students are Hispanic. Sanchez and members of the city’s legislative delegation are advocates for state bond support for Smalley.  The city receives 80 percent funding from the state  when projects pass muster and are approved at the state level. Sanchez, however, says his inquiries to city officials about the project so far have gone unanswered.

SmalleyAcademy

Next In Line For Renovations Is Smalley Academy  (from megaeducation.com)

At issue is the feasibility plan coming out of the Council’s bonding subcommittee that puts the costs much higher than prior estimates.  In the last major New Britain school renovation at Gaffney School – which has a comparable enrollment and size to Smalley Academy –  the total cost was $30 million.   A former high-level New Britain school administrator says the $53 million price would be more appropriate for new construction at a larger school,  not improvements and upgrades to Smalley.

On Wednesday, June 22nd  at 6:30 p.m.the City Council’s Committee on Administration, Finance and Law will vote on whether to accept the $53 million appropriation and bond authorization for the school renovation and expansion project.  Public comment will be invited prior to the vote at City Hall.

 

 

“Revolutionary” State Budget? Property Tax Relief, New ED Aid For NB Is Part of Democratic Package

by John McNamara

A tentative agreement among Democratic leaders on a biennial state budget  that begins July 1st appears to be good news for New Britain and other municipalities in terms of property tax relief and continued aid to the under-funded city schools.

Late Saturday (May 31) Democratic legislative leaders and representatives of the Malloy Administration agreed on a revenue package that will drastically cut the car tax. The measure will set aside the city’s property tax rate of 49 mills on vehicles and cap the tax for cars to no more than 29 mills in a statewide formula.   The levy on vehicles will be in effect for the 2015 tax year if OK’d in a final vote. At the same time the plan will designate a percentage of sales tax revenue for transportation and new funding to cities and towns to reduce burdens on property taxes.

New Britain's legislative delegation will wrap up the 2015 session June 3. From left Rep. Bobby Sanchez (25), Rep. Peter Tercyak (26), State SenatorTerry Gerratana (6) and Rep. Rick Lopes (24). Absent from photo is Rep. Betty Boukus (22)

New Britain’s legislative delegation will wrap up the 2015 session June 3. From left Rep. Bobby Sanchez (25), Rep. Peter Tercyak (26), State  Terry Gerratana (6) and Rep. Rick Lopes (24). Absent from photo is Rep. Betty Boukus (22). ( F Gerratana photo 2014)

The Democratic package, if approved by the Legislature, represents the most significant change in Connecticut’s tax structure in decades, making the system more progressive and fairer to New Britain and other cities.

Taxes will most certainly  increase by a smidgen for high-income individuals with the ability to pay. For most citizens burdened by one of the nation’s heaviest property tax burdens there is relief.  State Senate President Martin Looney (D-New Haven) called the proposal “revolutionary” and said “this budget meets the state’s obligations and provides historic property tax relief for the people of Connecticut,”  It includes provisions to:

–  Raise the income tax rate on millionaires from 6.7 to 6.99 percent

–  Maintain the state sales tax at 6.35 percent and designating half a percent each to local property tax relief and the Malloy transportation initiative. Proposed sales taxes on accounting, engineering, advertising and dry cleaning were eliminated from the plan.

– Triple the tax on computer and data processing from 1 to 3 percent.

– Adjust Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) grants to municipalities with high mill rates where state property and nonprofit institutions hold significant amounts of property.

As the legislative session ends New Britain’s legislators have been mobilizing to retain a fair share of municipal aid,  support state-funded programs and maintain New Britain’s share of education funding.

Details will be forthcoming over the next several days, but it is likely that the delegation has succeeded and the city will improve on the $85 million (covering 68%)  it now gets under state cost sharing formula to underwrite the education budget proposed by the Stewart administration at a flat-funded $124,183,673.

Despite billion dollar deficits confronting the Malloy administration and legislators in  state budgets since 2011, New Britain’s education aid has steadily increased over the last four years.  It will do so again if the budget package wins approval by Wednesday, June 3.

To be sure New Britain schools will remain under-funded in comparison to comparable communities in the absence of more equity in the way educational funding is distributed. The state budget package now on the table, however,  is a step in the right direction.  New Britain has fallen behind more sharply than others because of a consistent pattern of the city setting budget priorities that stiffed the schools year after year, but increased spending in municipal government. This year is no exception.

Attention now turns to the adoption of the municipal budget. The Common Council is due to act on  the Stewart Administration’s $224,757,851 budget and 49 mill tax rate by mid-June.  No matter how the city acts there is now room for optimism on property tax relief and education aid given the prospect of a “revolutionary” state budget plan being adopted.

Dems Recommend Nicole Rodriguez For School Board Vacancy: City Council Will Fill Vacancy

Posted in public education, school board by nbpoliticus on July 22, 2013
DTC Recommends Nicole Rodriguez For BOE Vacancy
Nicole Rodriguez, a high school graduation specialist in the Hartford School system and parent, is the choice of the Democratic Town Committee to fill the seat left vacant by Dr. Nicole Sanders who recently resigned from the Board of Education.
Ms. Rodriguez, who holds a master’s degree in school counseling, volunteers as Alton F. Brooks Youth Basketball Commissioner and coach.  She also coaches for the CT Heat AAU Girls Basketball Club. She serves on the board of directors of the New Britain-Berlin YMCA and was a recipient of WMCA’s Ron Brooks Youth Development Award. 
Rodriguez was among five candidates seeking endorsement for three BOE seats up for election this year.  In seeking a board seat she told the DTC of her interest in being a member of the Board of Education:  I am a stakeholder, educator and I am committed to quality education. As a parent and educator I am concerned and determined that our children receive the best education possible. I have over 12 years’ experience as an educator. Many of them include working to reduce the dropout rate for at risk students.
If appointed by the New Britain Common Council, Rodriguez will serve for the remainder of a term that ends in 2015.  The appointment could come at the August meeting of the Common Council.
from http://www.newbritaindemocrat.org

Board of Ed Should Consider CT Health Partnership; "Significant" Savings To Support Services Possible

Posted in health insurance, municipal budget, property tax, public education by nbpoliticus on June 11, 2012

When State Comptroller Kevin Lembo talked with city officials last winter he came bearing potential good news that the city could gain hundreds of thousands of dollars for its municipal and schools’ budgets without a new tax or cut to services.

It may sound too good to be true but it is real and obtainable as the city grapples with the threat of cuts and layoffs and the need to adequately fund public education.  There is a way for cash-strapped New Britain government to realize significant dollars it doesn’t have now.

The new money — potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars — wouldn’t be part of  state aid allocations but would come from savings of the CT Partnership Plan,  a new state law that allows cities and boards of education to join the state health plan effective July 1, 2012.  In effect in more than 20 states throughout the country,  the partnership plan, adopted after a three-year legislative effort by House Speaker Chris Donovan, utilizes the power of pooling employee groups to lower insurance premium costs, which have been a rising cost item for City Halls and Boards of Education in recent years.

In rolling out the CT Health Partnership in March,  Lembo said his analysis found that 50 municipalities, including New Britain, would receive lower premium rates under the partnership for health insurance. “Over 50 municipal employers analyzed so far would receive lower premium rates under the CT Partnership Plan — 30 percent of those with rate reductions greater than five percent,” declared Lembo who prior to being elected Comptroller in 2010 was the State Health Advocate.

Opponents of the partnership, including former Mayor Stewart and former Ald. Lou Salvio, have complained that adoption of the health partnership would be a state takeover — a false and ridiculous claim that distorts the issue and continues a status quo of rising health premiums.  The partnership takes over nothing, but restructures good health coverage in a way the reduces the costs.

“Our initial analysis of more than 50 municipal employers revealed significant savings of five to eight percent in some cases — real money for municipalities seeking local property tax relief,” stated Lembo.

The O’Brien Administration and the city’s labor unions are apparently on board with the idea and ready to implement it.  To date the the Board of Education has yet to commit to the idea.

To achieve the savings in the partnership plan both school and municipal labor force need to be part of it. The Board of Education needs to give the idea fair and serious consideration.

Time for Dialogue: Superintendent Pick Will Meet With Community Groups In May Visit

Posted in public education by nbpoliticus on April 3, 2012

New Britain Superintendent-in-waiting Kelt Cooper will visit New Britain next month to meet with school officials and others, including members of the Latino and African American communities.

Leaders of those groups said a dialogue with Cooper is being planned for next month at last week’s meeting of the Democratic Town Committee.  The May visit comes  in the aftermath of a favorable report from four Board of Education members after their site visit to Del Rio, Texas where Cooper is the Superintendent of Schools.  The new Superintendent’s appointment is set to begin on July 1. Cooper, one of three finalists who met with the public on February 28th, was appointed on a 6 to 4 vote on February 29th, breaking a five to five deadlock at an afternoon meeting of the Board of Education.

News of a community dialogue ahead of Cooper’s official arrival is welcome news after controversy erupted at the end of the search. The imbroglio featured an  inflammatory letter to Mayor O’Brien from BOE member and former Republican Town Chair Paul Carver alleging the Mayor’s office tried to interfere with a closed-door BOE meeting.  O’Brien had made a request to the BOE to discuss the status of the superintendent search.

Unexpected concern over Cooper’s candidacy arose at the end of the search process when reports surfaced about his 2009 enforcement of a residency law in Del Rio that resulted in the inappropriate expulsion of 180 children — children whose families subsequently proved their right to attend school in the Texas border town.

A consultant’s report failed to mention the residency enforcement issue, leaving some school board members and many people involved in the search process unaware of an issue that drew national headlines when it occurred and drew the involvement of legal aid attorneys in the Del Rio area.  The consultant told the New Britain Herald in early March that the enforcement action was irrelevant to New Britain’s search and was only shared verbally  in mid-February as the process entered the home stretch.

Cooper, 51, rose to the top of the finalist list with two others based on accomplishments with English Language Learners and extensive experience in diverse districts in Arizona and Texas.  In addition to leading the San Felipe Del Rio District of 10,400 students, he previously was superintendent of the Nogales, Arizona Schools with 6,400 students. Cooper holds a B.A. in anthropology, a Master of Art degree in educational administration and an ABD/PhD without a dissertation, all from New Mexico State University.

New Superintendent Search Missed Key, Controversial Information on Kelt Cooper

Posted in civil rights, public education by nbpoliticus on March 2, 2012

Kelt Cooper, the choice of the Board of Education (BOE) to lead New Britain schools, rose to the top of the finalist list based on a good educational resume, accomplishments with English Language Learners  and extensive experience in diverse districts in Arizona and Texas.

The winnowing process concluded after two days of interviews by advisory committees and the BOE.  In a divided vote that stood at 5 to 5 during a tense meeting,  Cooper finally got the nod 6 to 4  and may be the schools’ chief  come  July 1 subject to contract negotiations and a critically important site visit to the Texas district of Del Rio where he is superintendent now.

On Wednesday and the day of the decision, however, the process received a disturbing jolt of information about Mr. Cooper that did not turn up during the vetting process.

I found out about it from a retired New Britain music teacher and passionate advocate for education who posted on her Facebook page a disturbing story from the Texas Observer after what must have been a cursory search on the web.  

The balanced and thoroughly researched story, written by Melissa Del Bosque,  covers Superintendent Cooper’s  controversial actions to expel students who allegedly were crossing over the Del Rio International Toll Bridge from Ciudad Acuna. The word allegedly is important here because Cooper turned out to be wrong about most of the children nabbed at the border by school employees who passed out warnings.  All but a few were  legally entitled to an education in his district. Nothing like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly to obstruct the civil rights of immigrant children.

From the Observer story:

All but 20 of the approximately 200 students issued warnings on Sept. 9 eventually returned to Del Rio schools. Texas RioGrande Legal Aid assisted at least 15 families who didn’t meet the new residency requirements imposed by Cooper. Some missed school for up to four weeks. But the crackdown, and Cooper’s blunt comments to the press about his actions, dredged up lingering racial division in Del Rio, where Mexican Americans have fought for equal education rights for more than century.
Mexican Americans in Del Rio say that whatever the legalities, Cooper’s actions had a chilling effect that could hinder their efforts to enroll more children in school. “It’s not in our interest to keep children who are U.S. citizens from getting a proper education,” says Alpha Hernandez, another attorney with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. “Every year some children don’t get registered. I’ve seen children 7- or 8- years-old that have never attended school. We are already suffering from high unemployment and low educational achievement.”
Cooper sees the issue as clear-cut. It was never a question of immigration status, he says, but of residency. “If 200 children crossing at 6:30 on a Wednesday morning is not cause enough to be suspicious, then I don’t know what is,” he says. “No, I guess they all have sick aunts because that’s what a lot of them said.

Cooper, who received lots of national media attention from his moves and kudos from anti-immigrant forces, maintains he was just trying to enforce state law about residency requirements in organizing a border patrol that randomly stopped children and their families coming over  the border.   But the vigilante-like actions resulted in threatening notices to students who, when the facts were known,  had the legal status to be enrolled in the school district.

The New Britain Board of Education put their faith and money in the  IA-based firm of Ray & Associates.  But when crunch time came the firm’s consultant had concluded the information about Cooper’s controversial and excessive “enforcement” actions were irrelevant to New Britain’s search.

However this search for a superintendent ends, it is clear Board of Education members were denied an important piece of information that should have been known during the screening process, not on decision day.

Reflecting On the Inauguration: Tim O’Brien Wants To Be The "Education" Mayor

Posted in city politics and government, public education by nbpoliticus on November 15, 2011

Today’s swearing in of the new Mayor, Tim O’Brien, and other municipal officials elected last Tuesday was most significant for where it was held as much as what was said at the ceremony.

 The New Britain High Band played the music and the Madrigal Singers sang the National Anthem as classes at the high school, the state’s largest, were in full session.

As a legislator O’Brien has been nothing less than passionate about public education and how it can be improved in a city where pressures on keeping the property tax down are paramount. O’Brien has balanced the need for aid to education with solid plans to reduce the reliance on property taxes to pay for quality education.  O’Brien should fervently hope that Governor Malloy, formerly an urban Mayor, will address the school funding issues if he can get out from under the state’s recession over the next two years. Among other things O’Brien has called for use of magnet school funding  to give New Britain parents a choice and to develop Sheff-O’Neill regional schools within the city which hosts one of the major teacher colleges in the state in CCSU.  Upwards of 600 New Britain students now journey to Hartford every day to attend the Classical Magnet or the college-oriented Capital Prep.

In the last two City Hall administrations (Pawlak’s  and Stewart’s 16 years)  the local allocation to the schools has been contentious and successive administrations have skirted or scuttled the requirement for a minimum level of support to education. Less than two years ago the Democratic Council restored more than $1 million  to avoid larger classroom sizes only to have it scuttled by the Mayor.

Unquestionably, Tim O’Brien faces enormous fiscal issues as he takes office amid the deep recession and less in the way of help from Hartford or D.C.  But based on his call at today’s inaugural for cooperation and a clear statement that education IS a priority in his administration the terms of the debate have significantly changed.  Education will be a priority and O’Brien intends to be the “Education Mayor”.  As the more perceptive politicians in our town have pointed out that is the only and best  strategy to retain and attract middle-class families to stay here and move in from anywhere else.

One Way To Promote Job Growth and Stability: Eliminate Tuition At State’s Public Colleges

Posted in economic development, public education by nbpoliticus on March 10, 2008


The earning power of college graduates versus those whose highest attainment is a high school diploma favors the former by a wide margin. In central Connecticut, it doesn’t really matter anymore if you want a job as an analyst at an insurance company or fill out an application at a small manufacturer to build parts on the shop floor. You will need post-secondary skills to fill decent paying jobs in our regional economy.

That’s what makes State Rep. Timothy O’Brien’s legislation to eliminate in-state tuition for students at UCONN, the state universities and the community colleges intriguing. So intriguing that O’Brien’s proposal has drawn considerable press coverage, including a February 21 story in the Meriden Record-Journal.

House Bill 5261 “will eliminate all tuition and fees for in-state residents” and proposes “that funding be increased to offset the costs” of eliminating in-state tuition at the public colleges and universities. While many would call the O’Brien idea unaffordable, the need to make college and post-secondary training opportunities available is broadly recognized as a key to retaining jobs and a stronger economy.

O’Brien’s idea is not new. Free public education is an idea deeply rooted in the American egalitarian ideal. Once upon time California was a K-graduate school system without tuitions and fees. And last year MA Governor Duval Patrick, a business friendly Democrat, proposed a guarantee that the 12 community colleges in his state be open and tuition-free.

According to the Record Journal, O’Brien recognizes the current reliance on student tuition and fees to meet operating costs: “O’Brien’s bill would require students who did not pay tuition and fees for the duration of college to pay a fixed rate for a certain amount of time after they graduate, depending on their income. If they move out of state, however, the students would be required to pay back the full amount.”

Says O’Brien: “I introduced this legislation because I think that it is time that Connecticut start talking about the fact that high tuition and fees at our public institutions of higher education is a growing barrier to a college education for many people in our state, even if good financial aid is available for students.” O’Brien emphasizes that the bill is also an effort to stem a “brain drain” that will encourage young people to stay in Connecticut.

While O’Brien concedes that House Bill 5261 will likely go no where in a short legislative session. He knows it opens an important discussion on educational access and economic policy that will not end with the close of the General Assembly this year.

Post originally appeared at http://newbritaindemocrat.blogspot.com