Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

0Brookfield Board of Education confirms termination of superintendent

The Brookfield Board of Education unanimously voted Thursday to terminate Superintendent Anthony Bivona, confirming a decision the board originally made in May.

The same board that fired Bivona earlier this year sat in judgment of him during a multi-part hearing that stretched on for months.

The board fired Bivona, who led the district for seven years, after auditors discovered the district had been using a gimmick to balance its budget. Bivona’s longtime business manager, Art Colley, resigned under scrutiny earlier this year.

The audit found that $1.3 million in school district bills had been pushed into the subsequent fiscal year. The town approved a supplemental appropriation of more than $1.1 million to bring the school district’s budget back into balance.

Bivona claimed throughout the hearing process he didn’t know what Colley was doing. The board’s attorney claimed Bivona should have known and the board agreed with his conclusion. Bivona’s attorney argued political pressure led to the firing making it arbitrary and illegal.

4Teachers’ union official with state appointment describes herself online as a proud “union thug”

AFT Union Thug highlightA Connecticut teachers’ union official who holds an appointed position in state government calls herself a “union thug and proud of it” on her Twitter page.

Jean Morningstar is second vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut. Gov. Dannel Malloy appointed her to serve on the State Contracting Standards Board last year.

A recent tweet included a picture of Morningstar posing with Malloy.

After a fight over education reform including proposed changes to teacher tenure, Malloy and AFT have grown close again.

Malloy and AFT national President Randi Weingarten are expected Friday to tour schools together in Meriden and New Haven.

Last month, Malloy appointed Erin Benham, one of 22 AFT Connecticut vice presidents, to the State Board of Education.

In 2012, Malloy appointed Sharon Palmer, then president of AFT Connecticut, to serve as labor commissioner.

1Principal 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.