Birks, Ed Board: We’re Cooperating Now

Christopher Peak PhotoThe mayor and the president of the Board of Education appeared with the superintendent of schools Friday to offer public support for her recommendations for cutting her budget.

That unified front was displayed to cameras and microphones at a press conference at Wilbur Cross High School, as Mayor Toni Harp, Board President Darnell Goldson and Superintendent Carol Birks detailed how they said they have already halved a $19.34 million budget deficit for the new fiscal year. Close to a dozen City Hall employees showed up, applauding after each speech.

“It should be very clear to the public that we support the superintendent and her staff in what they’re trying to do to right-size the district. It is not an easy thing to do in this environment,” Goldson said. “Mistakes will be made, but those will be made as a result of trying to do the right thing. We believe in the future that we will be working together to make sure that the right things are being done”

The media advisory was a stark contrast with a similar convening just a month ago, when five school board members ripped into Birks for sending dismissal letters to 1,153 part-time employees, calling the move a “stumble” and ordering her to reverse the decision. Mayor Harp and Goldson called a press conference — noticeably with Birks absent — to blast her decision. Emails later revealed that board members had also been giving Birks directions behind the scenes, overturning her decision to suspend a student from going to prom and telling her how to manage her time. One board member objected this his colleagues were “undermining” the new superintendent. 

Last week, at a two-day retreat, board members and the superintendent sat in the middle of a a largely empty cafeteria and frankly discussed their roles. At one point, Birks said she wished more of the board had shown up for her community forums, in which she introduced herself to New Haven. Since then, the board appears to be be trying to do its part.

At Friday’s press conference, Birks walked through a Power-Point presentation showing that the district has already saved $10.9 million by eliminating 130 positions in next year’s budget. Those cuts came from closing Creed High School, consolidating the alternative high schools and prekindergarten programs and reducing the number of counselors, librarians and administrative interns. Working with the teachers union, the district reassigned most of those employees as classroom teachers, resulting in only 32 layoffs. Only a couple hires will be made this year in shortage areas.

As tensions over the district’s management cooled, Mayor Harp said she felt temperatures outside were starting to drop too, heralding the start of school in two weeks. The late summer stillness reminded her of the times her dad sat her down to talk about the importance of learning. She said that those formative experiences were part of why education has been a “top priority” for her administration.

Asked how she squared that with the city’s flat-funding of the schools, Harp said she hopes the deep cuts will show decision-makers realize what’s at stake in future budgets.

“Through this experience, I hope that the residents, the alders and all of our partners understand how important funding education is. I believe it’s the most important thing that we do to seed the future,” she said. “Decisions that are made have a real impact.”

Click on the video to watch the full press conference.

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posted by: Noteworthy on August 10, 2018  5:06pm

I will stand up and applaud the speech where Mayor Harp and all the department heads that overspent their budgets resign and apologize to taxpayers. Until, these photo ops, sanitized of anything of real value mean nothing. If you have a $20 million budget hole - and you’re only half way to solving it, with the school year about to begin - and almost two months of the fiscal year gone - then you’ve done a half assed job of accomplishing your goal. Once school starts, you can’t close another school. Did no reporter ask where the rest of the money was coming from? Or is the plan to hand taxpayers another bill for $10 million in deficit spending, like the $7 million deficit handed us this year - right before we got the $30 million tax hike?

PS. Wish I could have seen some video of the cheering City Hall staffers who wasted their time and our money in this hostage presentation.

[Chris: I did ask where the rest of the money’s coming from and didn’t get a straight answer. They have a plan to save $3.6 million by maximizing grants, reducing utilities, cutting back on supplies and limiting bus rides, but that still leaves them short several million. As for the rest? “We’ll continue to look and see,” Birks said. She did add that more layoffs are possible.]

posted by: 1644 on August 10, 2018  7:23pm

Cutting back on supplies?  From what teacher commentators are saying, teachers are already having to buy their own supplies, and textbooks are a decade or more old.  I wonder how much more can be cut. As for the bus rides, I would have guessed that transportation is mandated by state statute.  Could the district give high schoolers CT Transit passes and meet its statutory obligation?

posted by: Noteworthy on August 11, 2018  6:15am

Chris: Thank you for asking - and shame on the administration for not having a straight answer. They’ve known there was this budget hole for something like three months - at least a month before the fiscal year officially ended. Cutting back on school supplies? Good lord, every year, teachers use their own money to buy supplies, struggle with making copies of tests and handouts. Does the Harp House really expect to teachers to pay more? Or do they expect the parents to send school supplies to school?

$10 million is no small number. That’s 33% of the last year’s budget deficit - before mitigation by more debt - and other dubious engineering. And somehow, cutting back on field trips, copy paper and utilities is going to yield $10 million? yeah right.

That’s about as accurate as Harp saying her vacation to China cost taxpayers $20,000 - when the real cost is $50,000

From Mario Boone at WTNH: Finally got the breakdown of costs for Mayor Toni Harp’s China trip. Notice the amount changes THREE times since I first asked five months ago. Total cost so far: nearly $50k. Go to my Twitter acct to see the full thread: #StopTryingMe #ReleaseTheDocs

posted by: NHPLEB on August 11, 2018  6:26am

Get rid of the dead weight at Gateway.  Get rid of the youth mentors who walk around high-fiving kids and breaking up fights.  Get rid of the truancy folk who NEVER show up and are truant themselves.  These folk are all collecting salaries and often benefits (if full-time).

Factories used to employ a time-study person.  This person studied each facet of the assembly job and helped determine production rate expected and rate per piece.  I suggest that the superintendent send one of the many flunkies drinking coffee at Gateway around to observe people on the job.  You will find that the only ones working all the time are the teachers.  Everyone else is coming or going from Dunkin Donuts,  ordering/eating lunch,  planning what they will eat for lunch,  and checking their phones.

PS—-  every job, everywhere,  should ban or block internet and cellphone signals.  You would see an amazing increase in productivity and attention to tasks.  Biggest timewaster and moneywaster EVER!

posted by: NHPLEB on August 11, 2018  7:12am

Lotsa fluff,  patting themselves on the back,  blaming the State, no specifics,  no real answers.
This was a waste of electricity and air-conditioning wattage.

Start laying off the big shots and giving them furlough days: THEN,  hold a press conference to show some results.

How much money could be better spent if we stopped the school-busing and food service valet services for students?

posted by: 1644 on August 11, 2018  7:43am

Meanwhile, cost of the China trip is nearly $50K and still rising.
Jones and Walker got the free ride, too, as well as Harp.  Plenty of greed to go around while New Haven’s finances were in shambles.

posted by: Noteworthy on August 11, 2018  2:29pm

LOL Notes:

1. Turn off the lights - turn off the dripping faucets?

2. Mitigate staffing cuts? Why? It’s the largest line item in your budget.

3. “In the coming months…” This is an emergency - start working around the clock.

4. They’re going to use “engagement” and conversations. lol

5. A month after kneecapping Birks - Mayor Harp talks about the weather because “Fall is in the air.” lol

6. “To make sure we don’t have the same problems this year as we did last year.” And the year before last, the year before that one…education is the top priority of this administration” lol

7. Memory lane of her shopping trips with her mother - and her old phone. lol

8. Birks has Harp’s support - lol - until she tries to fire FOTs.

9. Still looking for millions in savings - lol

10. New Nursery Song: Oh, where oh where have my little dollars gone? Where oh where can they be? With the budget cut short and the expenses cut long, where oh where can they be?

posted by: wendy1 on August 11, 2018  3:21pm

This city is full of cellphone zombies as well as timewasters, nosepickers, and the totally hopeless and hapless.  I am all for bus passes for HS kids and the elderly (mass transit) which are at discounted prices of course.  I used one in HS in NYC.

And we must get this gal out of office ASAP.

posted by: BlueDogMom on August 11, 2018  7:26pm

Sec. 16. - Recall of Mayor .
A. Procedure. The Mayor may be recalled from office in the following manner 132 : (1) Any fifty (50) Electors may jointly file with the City Clerk an affidavit setting forth that they in good faith desire and propose to file a petition for the recall of the Mayor, which affidavit shall also contain a detailed statement of the grounds alleged for such recall 133 .(2) Thereupon, the City Clerk shall deliver to the Electors making such affidavit a reasonable number of copies of petition papers for demanding such recall, printed form of which the clerk shall provide and keep on hand 134 . (3) Each such paper so delivered shall be addressed to the Board of Alders and shall bear the certificate thereon of the City Clerk showing the date on which the same was issued and the persons to whom it was issued 135 .

(4) Form of Petition 136 . The recall petition papers so provided and issued by the City Clerk shall be in form substantially as follows:
We, the undersigned Electors of the City of New Haven hereby demand that the question of recalling____________from the office of Mayor of the City of New Haven be submitted to a vote of the Electors.Recall

posted by: wendy1 on August 11, 2018  9:17pm

BlueDogMom—-the trick is the 50 people at once filing with the city clerk (jerk)—too bad Sally Brown doesn’t live there anymore.  I, for one,  can be part of the 50…and I am relentless on the streets with a clipboard and pen even though I am lame and pretty deaf.  There is anger but also much apathy here and collecting 50 folks to file (at once?) is a hell of a challenge…names on petitions is much easier.  I really dont want another year plus of Toni.  Any ideas or suggestions about corralling 50 registered voters??  We could advertise on Ugly Radio maybe?????

posted by: BlueDogMom on August 12, 2018  8:52am

It is not apathy that will keep people from the recall-it is fear. Ironic considering our city memorializes the three judges who spend their lives running and hiding from retaliation when they signed a paper against King Charles.  However way fifty brave individuals can be gathered-if you want to stop the insanity, we have to recall her.  Any other form of protest will fail. We need to show elected officials that we are serious and our disappointment will not wait for the hope of voting them out.

posted by: 1644 on August 12, 2018  10:19am

Regarding recall:  50 is just the beginning.  You can take as long as you want to get those fifty signatures.  After you return those 50 to the clerk’s office, however, you have only 20 days to get 29% of the number of voters who voted in the last election.  I believe this number would be about 4,000 signatures,  if 20,000 people voted in that last mayoral election.  To get those four thousand in only twenty days, you obviously have to be very organized. with lots of door knockers.  I bet UNITE-HERE could get them.

posted by: JohnTulin on August 12, 2018  11:24am

NHPLEB is 1000% correct.  I’ve been saying these things - and more - for years re: NHPS.  It is all so true and so obvious to anyone who takes a long, hard look at these things from the inside.  You could layoff a hundred more employees, certain employees, and have absolutely no negative impact on the educational outcome of the cuts.

posted by: robn on August 13, 2018  11:18am

Cut useless administrators by the dozens. Then eliminate the 11% tax hike. Then give us an 11% tax break as we should have gotten had the mayor not refinanced all of our debt to hide spending.
Then maybe we’ll consider applauding.

posted by: 1644 on August 14, 2018  6:22am

A show of unity, then a kneecapping:
The complaint was that not enough notice was given, now the dithering board delays further?  With no ideas of its own to close the gap in its second consecutive year of adopting an unbalanced budget.