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Plenty Of Bark, But No Bite From The RTM As Budget Is Finalized

Body Scolds Belair, Blevins, But Approves Budget

Many have asked: What if a tree falls in a forest and nobody is there to hear it -- does it make a sound? Well Waterford’s Representative Town Meeting pulled the opposite trick Wednesday, making plenty of noise where everybody could hear it, but nothing ever fell.

The RTM unanimously approved a $74,335,161 budget, $2.3 million more than last year, and $2,300 higher than what the board of finance . This came after several members tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to cut the budget, while taking shots at the various department heads.

Nobody got it worse than Superintendent Jerome Belair and Board of Education Chairman Donald Blevins Wednesday night, who presented a that laid off 11 certified staff members. The RTM did not cut a dime, but had plenty to say to the education officials.

The Scolding

Several RTM members pointed out $10,000 for conferences for board of education members, while the board of finance members and the RTM members do not go to any conferences. Also, others were angry over Belair spending $4,000 to paint his office and to buy new furniture.

“I’m boiling; it is insulting that these things are in the budget,” RTM member Dr. John Foley said. “We are painting offices, we are sending the boards on conferences and meanwhile we are cutting and art and athletics and other things for the kids.”

Member Paul Goldstein was critical of Belair, saying he “did not find creative solutions to solve this budget.” Although it was frustrating that the teachers did not accept a wage freeze, the superintendent is responsible for not doing more to save the jobs of teachers, he said.

East Lyme, which serves almost the exact same amount of students as Waterford, has a $2.5 million lower budget than Waterford, RTM member Theodore Olynciw said. That is unacceptable, Olynciw said.

“I do this comparison with (former superintendent) Randy Collins and (assistant superintendent) Craig (Powers) almost every year, line item by line item, and we always are more,” Olynciw said. “Why do we keep paying for the same?”

Belair said Waterford has higher salaries than East Lyme, although said he would like to do comparisons between the two towns.

Others directed more of their anger to Blevins. The board of education needs to put its philosophical arguments aside and look at the practical situation, and install a pay-to-participate program to save athletics, Teresa Wilensky said.

“We don’t live in the philosophical world, we live in the real world,” WIlensky said. “And the real world costs money.”

Blevins has been against pay to participate, arguing “public education should remain public.” Wilensky countered that this solves a problem, and most parents in town would much rather pay than see a program go away.

Blevins countered again, saying it is easy for individuals to say they are willing, but individuals do not speak for the entire population, some of whom can’t afford pay to participate. Lower income students would be paid for by the town, but doing all that extra paperwork winds up costing the town almost as much money as it brings in, Blevins said.

Ledyard charges $100 a sport, and that seems to work, Goldstein argued. Waterford should do the same, to keep all of its sports, he said.

The board of education passed a budget that cut indoor track and the golf team. The board will make its final decision on pay to participate on May 26.

Wilensky also argued for the board of education to allow advertising on the football and baseball fields (banners draped over the fences) to make money, and corporate sponsorships. Blevins said the board would consider all options.

With the RTM delivering final action on the budget, it becomes official, and the process is closed. The board of finance will set the tax rate soon, likely at 18.85 mills, up from 18.04. That would represent a 4.5 percent tax increase.

Dave May 05, 2011 at 12:05 PM
I've always said that it isn't a lack of funds the town has, but a total mis-managemant of funds. Mr Belair you've set a poor example in your short time as superintendent. I ask the towns people to vote out Mr. Blevins and the rest of the board of education members who constantly show it's not about our children but about themselves! As for the RTM, you've shown that you have no balls when it counts!
Rick Beaney May 05, 2011 at 12:07 PM
I have stated this previously here and at the BOE meetings and will do so again in the hopes that the BOE will stop procrastinating on the issue and address it. If programs are to be cut and the public is willing to support pay-to-participate, it should be used versus cutting the programs. The public who attended the BOE meetings was overwhelmingly in favor of this. Again, please remember that not only were varsity golf and indoor track cut but freshmen baseball/softball/basketball (why isn't that ever mentioned?). Once those programs are cut, they will not come back and those kids will never get that experience, it is lost to them forever. I know that cuts had to be made but spending $10,000 on conferences for BOE members when that is half the amount that would be needed to fund freshmen sports or fully fund the golf team is absurd! The BOE is here to serve the students aren't they? I do mostly disagree with Mr. Goldstein on his comments that Superintendent Belair "did not find creative solutions to solve this budget". This budget was first developed by Dr. Collins, was dropped in his lap as soon as he took the job and then given a mandate from the BOF to cut 1.2 million more. I attended the BOE meetings and thought he tried very hard to spread the cuts and he also brought some new ideas to the table, including pay-to-participate which Dr. Collins and our BOE never seriously considered in years past. I think Mr. Belair is doing a good job so far in a very tough situation.
BJ May 05, 2011 at 12:49 PM
VERY TRUE! Facts speak!
don May 05, 2011 at 09:08 PM
TIME FOR NEW BLOOD GET RID OF THEM, JUST ANOTHER NOTE FOR TAXPAYER'S REC AND PARK WAS TOLD TO CUT OUT OF THEIR BUDGET TO MAINTAIN SCHOOL PROPERTY'S , MR COLLINS WAS TOLD TO PUT IT IN HIS BUDGET , PARKS AND REC DID , MR COLLINS DIDN'T , ABOUT 6 WEEKS FROM NOW JULY 1 WILL BE HERE , AS OF TODAY NO ONE WILL TAKING CARE OF THESE PROPERTY'S PLEASE DON'T YELL AT PARK AND REC THEY ARE SLATTED TO LOSE TWO MAINTAINER AT LEAST JULY 1 THRU RETIREMENTS THE TOWN HAS CUT THESE FROM THE BUDGET . NOT TOO SURE WHAT THERE GOING TO LOOK LIKE. I GUESS WE WILL SEE.
Randy Collins May 05, 2011 at 09:22 PM
I was never told to put any such thing into the budget. I would have done so if that had been request from the First Selectman or the BOE. The school department had no equipment to maintain the grounds. When Rec and Park began to do the school ground many years ago the school department turned over all of the mowers. As of today the grounds are still the responsibility of Rec and Parks to my knowledge.
Paul May 05, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Just for clarification, 4 members of the RTM voted against the BOE budget & one member abstained. The unanimous vote was for the total budget of $74,335,161. If any further cuts were made to the BOE Budget they would be in the form of block cuts which would give the BOE the power to cut more important programs. Mr Belair stated at meetings that even though Dr Collins Prepared the budget that he had input in the process. In fact, once the union voted to not vote on concessions it was the BOE along with Mr Belair who changed the budget!

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