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A Vote of Confidence

Waterford Board of Education extends school Superintendent Jerome Belair’s contract for another three years

Waterford School Superintendent Jerome Belair received a big vote of confidence from the Board of Education at last night’s special meeting. The board unanimously approved extending Belair’s contract for another three years, from July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2014.

“We are happy with the performance,” said Board of Education Chair Donald Blevins. “I don’t think any of us have any doubts.”

Belair was hired by the board to replace Randall Collins, who retired in December after serving as Waterford Superintendent for 20 years. Almost instantly, the former Weston superintendent confronted a number of challenges, not least of which was a budget that required teacher layoffs for the first time in recent memory.  

Belair’s hiring agreement called for his contract to be renegotiated in the summer but the new contract remains the same in terms of salary and benefits, Blevins said.

Although the bulk of the Board of Education’s July 21 meeting was dedicated to personnel matters and was therefore held in executive session, board members were eager to discuss their ideas for the school system going forward.

Sheri Cote proposed that the board create a finance committee to help members focus on specific line items within the school budget. Board members agreed that they weren’t interested in micromanaging the budget, but many felt they might be able to offer the superintendent more support at budget hearings if they had a firmer grasp of the details.

When it comes to budgets, the devil is often in the details. For instance, Belair pointed out that the latest fiscal year ended with a $175,000 deficit in fuel expenditures. That wasn’t because the schools burned more oil than usual, but the budget created by the Finance Committee set the price for oil at $2.04 per gallon, when actual costs ranged from $2.18 to $3.31. The new budget guideline for oil is $2.44, Belair added.

Board member Kathleen M. McCarty said she would like to see a renewed focus on the Learning through Service program. The Waterford School District was among the first in the nation to make community service a requirement for graduation more than a decade ago. Today, Waterford High School students commit 20,000 hours to community service but the job of running the program has been reduced from a full-time to a part-time position.

McCarty would like to see that position restored to full time. The Board agreed that it was time to take a look at how the program operates with an eye to reinforcing connections to curriculum and career development opportunities.

McCarty also suggested the board be more aggressive about developing public private partnerships. There was much discussion about what form corporate sponsorship might take.Corporate sponsors for scoreboards or banners at games or shows seemed a more palatable solution than, say, renaming the marching band after an insurance company.  

Board members were also interested in finding out exactly how much the schools might charge for advertising banners at school events. “If I’m going to sell my soul, I’m going to get a good price for it,” said Blevins.

In the end, however, board members agreed that it was important to try to find some way to enhance the budget. “It’s a shame to lose programs if we have a way to save them,” said McCarty.  

The final discussion focused on how to improve communication between the Board of Education and parents, teachers, and students. One proposal was to take surveys designed to assess the climate of the culture, asking questions about how people feel about school safety, activities, classes, and special programs.

Board members also favored moving some of their meetings from the Board of Education conference room to the schools. Board members said they’d welcome the opportunity to explore some of the new school buildings and some thought it might increase attendance by parents and students. As no member of the public attended the special meeting (which, by the way, was held at LEARN in Old Lyme) it probably couldn’t hurt to try.

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