Letters: The State of the Town, don’t be fooled, No longer need BOF and BOS

February 3, 2018 GMT

To the Editor: It was about 7:30 p.m. So I took my seat in the second row at Osborn Hill School. Our first selectman, Michael Tetreau was going to give his speech about the state of the town of Fairfield. As the row next to me filled up with students, I realized that they were there as part of a civics class from our local high school. They took notes and were intent listeners.Just think, I may have been sitting near a future leader of our town. As you may know, Mr. Tetreau is a product of our Fairfield Public Schools and Princeton University. His late dad, coach Fern Tetreau, was a school administrator and had a coaching career. The lessons that these students received from Mr. Flynn’s class were far more than a task. They observed our elected town leaders at this meeting.The level of respect and focus made me proud of them. They happen to be from Fairfield Warde. I am an alumna of Andrew Warde. Now as this meeting went on to the regular business of the RTM (Representative Town Meeting), the teachers contract came up for discussion. They heard so many people praising and stating how committed they were to education. A litany of how their relatives were involved in education. I must admit, some of them droned on and on. If only they had a quick lesson in brevity. Sometimes less is better.This group of young adults maintained their focus. Their teacher was at a meeting were he serves his community on its Board of Education. When he arrived and did speak, his students stood up. There was so much learning going on last evening. Bottom line was the 11 in the minority tried to wrap themselves as education advocates. Their votes proved otherwise. The majority of 24 prevailed. So now that we are moving on, we need to focus on giving each child the best that we can afford. They only travel on this education journey once. We have a competent Board of Education and a separate Board of Finance.May we all work together and not dictate to each other. We have so many superstar educators. Mr. Flynn should be in the running for Teacher of the Year. His class assignment will leave a lasting impression on these young adults.Susan P. BarrettFairfieldTo the Editor:Don’t be fooled and don’t forget! The next time you hear a public official in our town start off the conversation with how they are married to a teacher, is the son or daughter of a teacher and thinks that their son or daughter’s teacher is one of the most important people in their child’s lives … beware. Let them finish their thought. At the RTM meeting to cast their votes for or against the proposed new teachers contract, a few (thankfully) members went before the audience starting with this approach. Then they proceeded to tell the audience why, in their public duty to show fiscal responsibility, they would be voting against the contract.As a resident, teacher, FEA member and participant of the collective bargaining unit on the development of this contract, I can assure you it was not only negotiated in good faith, but produced a contract that does a fair job AT BEST in moving the teachers in Fairfield toward being compensated fairly and competitively. These same members, and those who voted against the contract, chose to ignore the facts presented to them with respect to other settlements in our surrounding area where the modest increase in salary can only be characterized as “average.” The facts are as follows: The total increase in salary over three years rounds out to 1.6 percent in the first year, 2.9 percent in the second year and 3.5 percent in year three for a total of 8 percent. It’s also very important to understand and recognize that it’s virtually guaranteed that the town will not even come close to realizing this increase in the teachers’ salary pool because of the standard methodology used, which assumes that all teachers currently employed will stay on for the next three years, which has never happened. Retiring teachers are replaced with young teachers at a much- lower salary. In the 2016-17 school year, the negotiated salary account was to have been $80.4 million, yet the actual amount benefiting the town came in at $76.8 million due to this very reason. Further on the facts … teachers with six to 15 years of experience (just under 400 of the 960 teachers in the district) in Fairfield are not being compensated competitively compared to the surrounding area and can be paid 10 percent or more by leaving the district to go work elsewhere. The impact: We are losing and cannot attract teachers in areas of shortage such as math, science and special education in particular. On the benefits side, the teachers will continue to be provided under the State 2.0 plan, which has not only saved the town more than $5million since 2016, but at 23 percent cost share is one of the highest in the state. As the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”The vote on this contract by the RTM was a binary choice. Either one voted for it, or against it. A vote against the contract was a vote for arbitration. One would think they might have learned, after being cautioned by the town’s attorney that arbitration would cost at least more than twice the $90,000 in legal fees the town incurred when this body voted against a recent administrators contract, which was on the single issue of health insurance … and by the way, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the administrators. A vote against this contract would have taken everything off the table and start at ground zero. How ironic it was to hear a member argue in principle for fiscal responsibility as he indicated he intended to vote against the contract. And then another member who specifically stated how he needed to send a message by voting against the contract (but not to worry because the contract was going to pass) as he lauded his child’s teachers in the audience. Shouldn’t every vote be cast as though it were the deciding vote? The political posturing on the part of the Republicans on the RTM was more than disheartening. So to come full circle, the next time you hear a public official speak about how supportive they are for our teachers and education, make sure you hear them out. Don’t be fooled … and the next time you get to vote, don’t forget.Frank SahagianFairfieldTo the Editor:State statute severely constrains the amount of time the Fairfield Board of Education has to conduct contract negotiations with the administrator and teacher unions. And if Connecticut had any focus on real reform in education in the first place, as Massachusetts does, administrators would be considered at will management employees and banned from organizing to bargain collectively. There is nothing we can do locally to change the statutory constraints the state has placed on the BoE. There is a lot we can do to give the BoE more time to conduct contract negotiations.There is a lot we can do to give our local Legislature a real voice in the size of the compensation and work rule packages handed out to the administrators and teacher unions by the BoE. Quite, simply, we can change the town charter with its colonial form of elected government and its 19th century budget process. State statute actually promotes that through the concept of state constrained home rule.State statute requires the BoE to have the administrator and teacher contracts in place before they adopt a budget recommendation for consideration by the Board of Finance. If we had a town council, which also served as the BoF, as allowed by state statute, the BoE would have a much later deadline to submit its budget and, thereby, more time to get the union contracts done. That would give the BoE more time to respect the local Legislature in the process and make the local legislative vote actually count on the contracts.Our colonial town charter requires the BoE to submit its budget to the first selectman, not the BoF as state statute allows. The first selectman must then submit his budget to the Board of Selectmen. Then the BoS recommends a budget to the BoF. Finally, the BoF, an idea out of the 19th century, sends a budget proposal to the colonial-inspired town legislature, the Representative Town Meeting. If we had a modern elected government, the BoE would submit its budget directly to the town council, which would also serve as the BoF.We simply no longer need the Board of Selectmen or the Board of Finance. Follow the process and see how little value these two boards actually add to the budget process. These antiquated boards and their antiquated convoluted process also take up valuable meeting space, valuable residents’ time and valuable FAIRTV air time. The BoS and BoF just need to go the way of the dodo bird.Ironically, state statute resists the initiation of any charter change to the BoS. Ironically, the BoS, who claim to be champions of transparency, good government and efficiency, keep standing in the way of all of that.Solar panels are nice, but they are not the way to save the taxpayer money.Changing the way our local politicians are allowed to do their business is.Jim BrownFairfield