Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

0Principal ousted only to run another New Haven school

A New Haven school principal faulted for problems at her school lost her post – as part of her reassignment to run a different school.

The New Haven Independent has the story:

In the wake of a blistering state audit revealing deep troubles and a divided faculty at Lincoln-Bassett School, the Board of Education removed Principal Yolanda Jones-Generette from her post Monday night.

A state audit earlier this year revealed the school faces significant problems. Those include student behavior, a low level of “rigor” in classes, teacher absenteeism, and safety issues. The audit found the staff was divided on whether Jones-Generette was solving the problems or making them worse.

The state recently invited the Lincoln-Bassett School into the Commissioner’s Network turnaround program. (Read an earlier story from the Independent here.)

Jones-Generette, who the Independent reports opposed her transfer, will now run the Barnard Magnet School.

3Top teacher pension goes to double-dipping CREC chief for total pay of $328,000

CREC Executive Director Bruce Douglas. Photo courtesy of CREC.

CREC Executive Director Bruce Douglas. Photo courtesy of CREC.

The largest teacher pension in the state of Connecticut goes to the head of the Capitol Region Education Council where he makes $130,000 in salary on top of his $198,000 pension.

Bruce Douglas has headed CREC since 2001. CREC runs 18 magnet schools, administers certain state programs and offers professional development and other services for 35 Hartford-area school districts.

Douglas, 66, started collecting his pension in November 2011. He said it was to his disadvantage that he waited so long to begin collecting his pension. “I probably should have done it sooner,” he said, explaining he was too busy to get around to it.

He said having four daughters in college is one reason why he started collecting his pension.

Douglas said he felt bad for people who don’t have a pension like his. “I wish they could have had the good fortune of going to school, getting a doctorate, working really hard,” he said. “I followed that path scrupulously.”

State law allowed Douglas to continue working after beginning to collect his pension as long as his salary was cut to 45 percent “of the maximum salary level for the assigned position.”

Prior to collecting his pension, CREC paid Douglas a little less than $250,000 per year.

Douglas said the reduction in his CREC salary of about $70,000 effectively paid for 1 percent raises for all CREC administrators. He said CREC has very low indirect costs – costs unrelated to the classroom – possibly the lowest in the country. He said those administrative costs fell from 10 percent when he started at CREC to below 2.5 percent.

During the 2010-11 school year, when he began collecting his pension, Douglas earned about $339,000 because of one-time payment for “deferred salary increases”.

Douglas said he had planned to retire and stop working in 2011, but the CREC Council offered to allow him to continue as executive director. He said “most people” don’t think you should stop working before collecting your pension.

The maximum pension benefit for teachers is 75 percent of final salary and that point is reached after 37.5 years.

“I was drawing less interest off my pension after my 37th year,” Douglas said. “It wasn’t fiscally responsible” to continue paying in because he was “putting more in than I was getting out.”

According to a database compiled by The Day, Douglas contributed $638,868 to the pension fund during his career.

Douglas said he plans on joining the Peace Corps when he leaves CREC.

1Brookfield breaks the law and violates charter by accounting like the state

The Brookfield Board of Finance reviewed a draft audit Wednesday showing the town’s schools used improper accounting to hide overspending in the past two fiscal years amounting to $1.1 million.

The town’s auditors from Mahoney Sabol & Company said the schools are in the process of undoing $471,000 in excess spending from the 2013 fiscal year by obtaining a credit from Cigna for that amount.

More than $700,000 in excess spending from the previous year remains. The board will have to decide whether to raise taxes or spend down its fund balance to pay for the unbudgeted expenses.

The auditors, new to the town, found school officials had pushed expenses out of the current fiscal year and into the next.

For example, in 2012 and 2013 the board of education paid for 11.5 months of health insurance instead of a full 12 months, according to the auditors. Since the board only accounted for paying for 23 months of insurance during a 24-month period, it underreported spending. This allowed the board of education to spend more than its appropriation.

“The material noncompliance appears to be due to the board of education’s business office operating under the past practice that any excess costs over budget pertaining to the prior fiscal year could be paid from the subsequent fiscal year appropriation,” the auditors wrote in a draft report. “As such, the need for an additional appropriation was never considered by the business office.”

Board of finance chairman Phillip Kurtz said the town’s boards would need to work together to resolve the problems. “It comes down to one bottom line,” he said.

The practice of pushing expenses into future periods is something many families do at home since they use cash accounting instead of accrual accounting. Cash accounting considers money spent when it changes hands. Under accrual accounting money is spent when goods and services are provided. That is why it is impossible under accrual accounting to pay for less than one year of health insurance each year.

“This is like operating a mom and pop,” said Ernie Nepomuceno, board of finance vice chairman. “This is pretty serious from my perspective.”

The state requires municipalities to use accrual accounting, but uses a different system for itself, modified cash accounting.

For years, governors and the General Assembly used accounting gimmicks to make Connecticut’s budget appear balanced. They made the fiscal year longer when it came to collecting taxes and shorter when it came to paying bills.

As both Brookfield and the state have learned, this works in the short term, but has long-term consequences. An expense pushed into next year makes the next budget that much more out of balance.

The state’s current gap is $1.1 billion. That’s the price tag for adopting accrual accounting and Generally Accepted Accounting Principles as Gov. Dannel Malloy has promised to do.

According to the board of education’s comments in the draft audit, unexpected costs in three areas led to the overspending.

For the two-year period, special education costs exceeded the budget by $427,840, substitute staff costs by $424,925 and health insurance premiums by $340,486.

To alleviate the overspending, the board of education negotiated a one-time credit from its health insurer, Cigna, for $471,262 or the equivalent of the June 2013 monthly premium. The credit is “based on a strong and positive business relationship,” according to the board of education comments in the draft audit.

2New Board of Regents chairman and wife maxed out to party weeks before selection

Gov. Dannel Malloy publicly named Nicholas Donofrio chairman of the Board of Regents of Higher Education weeks after he and his wife made $10,000 contributions to the Connecticut Democratic Party.

The Ridgefield couple made the max-out donations to the party’s federal account in November. Malloy promoted Donofrio from member of the board to its chairman on Dec. 12.

Anita Donofrio, Nicholas’ wife, began giving to a number of Democratic candidates and party committees in 2012, but this marked her first donation to her home state party. Previously, she donated to the Democratic National Committee and state parties in Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin and Virginia, according to the Federal Elections Commission.

Nicholas Donofrio donated to a mix of Republicans and Democrats since the late 1990s. Although he made large contributions to the federal account of the Vermont Democratic Party in 2010 and 2012, his contribution to the Connecticut party last month was his first, according to the FEC.

Donofrio, a longtime IBM executive, has been a member of the Board of Regents since its creation last year.

The Board of Regents did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

1Board of Regents awards raises while awaiting results of six-figure pay study

The Board of Regents for Higher Education will give Christmas raises to 279 managers before a consulting firm completes a six-figure study of how it pays those employees.

The board, which oversees Connecticut’s state universities and community colleges, hired Sibson Consulting to complete the study.

The study’s goal is to unify the pay schedules inherited from the organizations that merged to form the Board of Regents.

The board will pay Sibson $104,500 to complete the study, plus $9,500 for expenses.

The initial plan, laid out in a request for proposals issued April 1, required the consultant to complete the study by Sept. 3. However, the board didn’t sign the contract with Sibson until Oct. 16.

A spokeswoman for the board did not have a comment before deadline.

After initially planning to keep the value of the raises secret, board President Gregory Gray reversed that position, as reported by the CT Mirror.

Sen. Stephen Cassano, a Manchester Democrat and the newly-appointed chairman of the legislature’s higher education committee, recently told the Journal-Inquirer he would seek more transparency from the state’s public universities.

0Zero equals 50 at Southington’s middle schools

Southington’s two middle schools will no longer give a student a grade below 50 on a test or quiz – unless the student refuses to take part. In that case, the grade is 45.

“A teacher may include a comment when entering that grade as a default indicating what the actual grade was. i.e. Student actual score was a 38 however school default policy is a 50,” a document outlining the policy says.

Superintendent Joseph Erardi Jr. said this type of grading is “prevalent throughout most, if not all, middle schools.” He said it is about “students having the opportunity to turn around a woeful performance.”

Erardi said a student who receives some really low scores, like a zero or a 10, has a chance to do well if they improve their performance under the minimum grading policy. The old policy was “almost a disincentive.”

A group developed the policy on behalf of both middle schools, according to Erardi. “I personally think they landed in a good spot,” he said.

Instead of retaking tests or quizzes to earn a higher grade, teachers can “re-teach” the material until the student raises his or her 50 to a 70.

“Both schools agree that extra credit and bonus points lead to grade inflation and will now offer up the term of  enrichment for students wishing to learn more,” the policy continues. “This will not be counted within a marking period grade.”

“There needed to be a calibration on extra credit,” Erardi said, explaining it didn’t make sense to allow students, for example, to bring a failing grade up as high as a 90.

0Law allows state education department to circumvent contracting rules

Connecticut’s Department of Education circumvented state contracting laws by giving money to a nonprofit with a specific purpose: to buy training and technology related to the state’s new teacher evaluation process.

The Connecticut Association of Schools, a nonprofit that serves principals across the state, published a request for proposals in March. Two weeks later, when bidding was closed, nine companies had bid on the project.

The legislature endorsed this procedure in 2010 by allowing state grants to associations representing superintendents, boards of educations or schools.

BloomBoard, a California-based company, won the $1.2 million software contract. TrueNorthLogic of Sandy, Utah, won both training components of the project for a total cost of $589,600.

The agreement between CAS and BloomBoard explicitly says CAS has no responsibility for paying the company unless the state provides funding:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this Agreement, CAS shall not be obligated to pay for any of the Consultant’s Services or expenses unless and until the Connecticut Department of Education provides funding to CAS for the Services and expenses to be provided under this Agreement.  In the event that such funds are not made available to CAS, CAS shall notify the Consultant in writing and this Agreement shall terminate immediately.  Under no circumstances shall CAS (i) be responsible to pay the Consultant for the performance of Services or expenses unless and until the State Department of Education provides funds for this Agreement, or (ii) be required to use its own funds to pay the Consultant for the performance of Services or expenses.

In February, state auditors criticized the department for using the improperly formed State Education Resource Center to skirt contracting rules.

SERC poses a unique set of problems because it was created by the legislature, but granting money to CAS also raises questions about the state’s contracting rules and transparency.

A department spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

CAS assistant executive director V. Everett Lyons provided the contract with BloomBoard and the initial RFP, but said the proposals from the other bidders are no longer available.

“The unsuccessful proposals were discarded at the end of the Phase 1 work period since ample time was provided to the unsuccessful vendors who wished to request copies,” Lyons said.

Typically, regulations require state agencies to keep responses to an RFP for at least three years.

0UConn bypasses bidding for urgent contract; winner’s prequalification expires during project

Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut.

Photo courtesy of the University of Connecticut.

The University of Connecticut awarded a $6 million contract last year without competitive bidding to speed up repair work for fear of bricks falling from the Gant Building on the Storrs campus, but the company doing the project is no longer authorized to do state work.

UConn awarded the contract last year to NER Construction Management, a Massachusetts-based company with an office in West Haven. Since NER began construction, its prequalification to do work for the state expired.

According to state statute, no company can “bid on a contract or perform work pursuant to a contract” unless it is prequalified.

UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the statute “is the process for regular bidding on projects, which we do follow, mirroring our UConn policy” on it.

“However, that process as outlined in the statutory language doesn’t address the procedure for contracting on exigent projects related to UConn 2000 such as the Gant repair work, which is necessary for public safety and also recognizes the legislative mandate of ‘avoiding further decline in the physical infrastructure of the University’ (Sec. 10a-109e),” Reitz said.

According to a June update, construction is 75 percent complete and $500,000 over budget, although still within the $1.5 million contingency attached to the project.

Reitz said water damage has caused brick and masonry to fall from Gant “in an area of campus with heavy pedestrian traffic.”

“While we’ve had scaffolding and other temporary measures in place there to address it, the continuing safety concerns for pedestrians and the continued deterioration of the materials made this work qualify for remediation under an exigent contract,” Reitz said.

She said a contract under this accelerated process UConn “requests and receives cost proposals from a qualified contractor with which it has experienced previous similar successful projects (in this case, NER Construction Management Inc.).”

Then, UConn asks the project architect and a third party to evaluate the company’s proposal. Finally, the board of trustees approves the project budget.

Reitz said the board approved the contract in September 2012.

“It may be helpful for you to know that the test of reasonableness is a true scrutiny of the costs, not a ‘fait accompli’ for the aspiring contractor by any means – the University has in the past, and will continue to, reject estimates when they are not in line with the costs estimated by the architect and third-party reviewer,” she said.

0Malloy’s no-layoff agreement shrinks savings at UConn

The University of Connecticut is missing out on millions in savings because of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s agreement to forego layoffs during his first term in office.

A recent study by prominent consulting firm McKinsey & Co. said the university could save at least $8 million a year over five years, but UConn says one-third of those savings are out of reach because of the no-layoff agreement.

UConn, which is facing budget problems, will miss out on at least $12 million in savings, but the number could be nearly double that, according to the firm’s report.

McKinsey estimated that, over a five-year period,  the university could save between $39 and $67 million and raise as much as $30 million in non-tuition revenue if it implemented the firm’s recommendations.

The study, commissioned in November 2010, cost UConn $3.9 million. McKinsey issued its final report in November 2011. Malloy finalized the no-layoff agreement while the study was ongoing, in August 2011.

According to UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz, 30 percent of possible savings identified in the McKinsey report would require reductions in personnel costs.

“At this time, there is a ‘no layoffs’ clause in place in labor contracts governing unionized UConn employees due to the SEBAC agreement,” she said.

Reitz added that UConn reviews staff and administrative positions that open, either due to resignations or retirements, to determine if and when they should be refilled.

“In many cases, departments have been able to save money by leaving positions unfilled and allocating the duties among other employees if appropriate,” she said.

Since the report’s debut in November 2011, the university has made “steady progress” saving in “key areas,” such as purchasing, facilities and information technology, according to an April 2013 update.

In its evaluation, McKinsey suggested that UConn raise parking fees to match prices at comparable universities, which would avoid the school subsidizing parking for its students.

The university’s Undergraduate Student Government was considering a proposal to hike up parking charges in December 2010. The Parking Advisory Committee introduced a similar proposal in October 2011, just one month before the McKinsey report was released.

Since the report, UConn has generated revenue by increasing parking fees and student residence fees being “realized,” according to the update.

McKinsey also noted that UConn did not match up with its peers in gift giving and contributions. It said that boosting fundraisers through the UConn Foundation would produce the largest revenue stream for the university.

In a September 2011 press release, President Susan Herbst said that it is “crucial” for UConn to focus on building its endowment, because “that will provide us with more resources over time and enable us to better endure the ups and downs of the economy.”

Reitz said plans for enhancing fundraising are “under way,” starting with the UConn Foundation hiring a new director.

She also said the Office of Economic Development has been “focusing strongly on patents, licensing and other commercialization opportunities” for UConn-developed technologies.

While UConn was considered “on par” with other large research universities in information technology spending, McKinsey said consolidating its IT system could help save money and enhance quality of service.

In the update, officials detail changes to the purchasing department, in which more than 20 contractural relationships were renegotiated for pricing and terms, as well as reorganization and collaboration with UConn Health Center.

As of July 1, UConn will have saved an estimated $7.4 million in the wake of the evaluation, said Reitz. She attributed much of the savings to consolidation.

There were mixed reviews among students and legislators alike, both when the firm was hired in 2010 and when the report was released in 2011.

Reitz said no major changes have been made since the April update was released.

Jordan Otero is a summer 2013 Yankee Institute journalism intern. She is a senior studying journalism at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She lives in Southington.

3Hartford gets $47 million for students who left its schools

Connecticut is spending millions on so-called “phantom students” because it pays for some students twice – a practice that would end if the state instead “followed the child” with its education dollars.

School districts are paid based on the number of school-aged children who live within their boundaries, so even if students travel outside a district or go to a charter or private school districts are still paid to educate them.

Because the state picks up much of the tab for education in some cities, the cost of double-funding students is high. Researchers estimate that it costs the state close to $190 million a year.

The study was in Education Next, a journal published by the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. It also explains why double-funding students isn’t just a financial problem.

“An obvious downside is that these policies cause less funding to be available for all other districts,” say authors Marguerite Roza and Jon Fullerton. “But such allocations also insulate district leaders from having to make tough (and often productivity-enhancing) changes in the way they serve the students they have. Policies intended to protect districts weaken the incentives that should drive change and adaptation as enrollments fluctuate.”

The Education Next study used figures from a ConnCan study published in 2009 called The Tab. Since then, many more students have enrolled in non-traditional schools, but the practice of paying districts twice continues.

For example, according to State Department of Education statistics, 4,703 Hartford children attended either a charter school or a school in another district in 2011, but Hartford was still paid for those children by the state.

At about $10,000 per child, that’s an extra $47 million on “phantom students.”

In Bridgeport, with 3,077 students outside the district and the state paying the district $8,500 per child, the state gave Bridgeport an extra $26 million. In 2011 in New Haven there were 2,807 students attending outside the district, and the state gave the district $9,200 per child, adding another $26 million.

Despite spending more money on education, the state has not seen a significant improvement in achievement. While spending on education has grown significantly over the past few years, student achievement nudged up only slightly in some areas, and has decreased in others.

From 2003 to 2011 (the last year official census data are available):

  • Spending on education per child in the state went from $10,788 to $15,600, a 45 percent increase.
  • Total spending – from local, state and federal sources – on Connecticut’s schoolchildren went from $7.15 billion to $9.6 billion.
  • The number of school-aged children shrank from 577,403 to 530,132.
  • State government spending on education grew from $2.52 billion in 2003 to $3.6 billion in 2009 then shrank back down to $3.2 billion by 2011.
  • While spending went up 35 percent from 2003-2009, student achievement remained almost flat – test scores increased by only 1 percent.

The state has a complicated system of giving money to school districts, which are paid through “cost-sharing grants.” As is often the case, complicated funding systems lead to less transparency.

As noted in a ConnCan study, the ECS funding formula is complicated because it uses so many factors – and because it is so complicated it is easier to manipulate.

A simplified “follow the child” method for funding education, where students are assigned a certain amount per year for their education and that amount is paid to the school they choose to attend, would make things much clearer.

But calls for using this method have largely been ignored, primarily because it is so politically difficult to reduce spending on education, or even to reallocate resources. The state instead has chosen the politically easy route – to “hold harmless” districts whose enrollment numbers shrink as students move to non-traditional schools.

This policy creates strange incentives for school districts – if children choose to go to school outside the district it means there is more money for a smaller number of students in the district. What incentive is there to build schools that would bring children flooding back?

Follow the child funding does not have to mean all students are assigned the same amount for their education. Not every child has the same advantages outside the classroom, and per student funding can reflect this reality. Children who are poor or who have special needs can receive higher amounts through a weighted funding system. This stops districts from trying to jettison children with the highest needs.