LWV OBSERVER REPORT FORM

 

Board or Commission:  West Hartford Board of Education

Date of Meeting: October 21, 2008

Members present: All except Bruce Putterman

Nature of meeting       Routine __X_____                         Special_____________

Called to order (time): 7:02 p.m.                                     Adjourned (time): 9:25 p.m.

 

Action taken:

 

The main agenda items were an address by the mayor, budget reductions, and staff reports on high school test results, enrollment and class size, construction, and summer school.

 

Mayor Scott Slifka addressed the board on town financial matters, the first time in anyone’s memory that a sitting mayor has come before the board at a public meeting.  He was accompanied by council minority leader Leon Davidoff and interim town manager Ron Van Winkle.  Mr. Slifka’s purpose in speaking was to request board and citizen cooperation in developing a “preservation plan” for West Hartford, a plan that will balance services against taxes in the context of a challenging fiscal environment.  He asserted that in this environment the town is essentially on its own and cannot count on the state or federal government for additional aid, that it may indeed face reductions in such aid.  He further characterized as antiquated and inadequate the property tax system, which provides the bulk of town revenues and is our only legal means of generating substantial taxes.  In order to live within the means that system provides, he stated that we must reach a community consensus on what services we can give up without destroying the essential character of the town.  A series of community meetings, focus groups, and perhaps a survey will provide the means for reaching such a consensus, and he pleaded for civility and a spirit of collaboration as the process unfolds.  Mr. Davidoff declared his intention to work with the council majority and the board, stating that the current financial crisis is not a partisan matter and affects the entire town.  Board chair Terry Schmitt promised full cooperation by the board.

 

Pursuant to a resolution passed by the town council October 14, the board approved unanimously a reduction to the 2008-09 education budget, reducing the appropriation for heating by $100,000.  This reduction was part of the total $600,000 in cuts made by the council following defeat of the town budget at the October 7 referendum.

 

In the superintendent’s report, Dr. Sklarz noted the forum on internet safety that took place earlier in the day at which Attorney General Richard Blumenthal spoke and recommended that parents visit www.cybercompass.com for a host of useful tools for protecting their children online.  He also announced that, in line with the town’s hiring freeze, vacant positions in the schools will be filled only after being reviewed and perhaps modified, and even then new hires will be on an interim basis only.

 

Director of Planning and Finance Chip Ward reported on high school test results.  The class of 2008’s SAT scores declined by a combined 17 points in math and critical reading to 1064, the lowest total since 1994 and the second straight year of decline from the record high of 1100 in 2006.  West Hartford continued to score above the state average of 1022 in 2008.   The number of AP exams taken by West Hartford students continued to increase in 2008, with 776 students taking 1,514 exams, an average of over 2 per student.  Continuing a trend that began in 2000, Conard had higher participation (66.4%) than Hall (45.5%), but a lower average score (3.09 vs. 3.82).  Both schools exceeded the board goal that 60% of graduates will successfully complete an AP course, with Conard at 64% and Hall at 66%.  For more detail, see http://www.whps.org/board/agenda-documents/20081021/High%20School%20ap,%20%20sat%20-%20Oct%2021,%202008.pdf.

 

Mr. Ward also reported on October 1 enrollment and class size.  K-12 enrollment rose to 9,896 students vs. 2007’s 9,821, a gain of 35 (.4%).  High school enrollment grew 1.8%, while elementary and middle school numbers dropped 0% and .8% respectively.  Including pre-K, total enrollment is now 10, 042.  Elementary class size averages 20.8, the largest since the early 1990’s—the last time prior to now that West Hartford endured successive years of budget defeats.  Twelve of the 224 elementary sections are at the new maximums set by the board in June; one is above.  Middle (21) and high school (20.7) average class sizes are also generally up over last year’s (20.1 and 20.65 respectively), but are not consistently higher than they have been in the recent past.  Go to http://www.whps.org/board/agenda-documents/20081021/Enrollments%20-%20Oct%2021,%202008.pdf for the full report.

 

 

Assistant Superintendent Tim Dunn reported that, pursuant to a town council resolution, all new construction projects for the schools have been put on hold.  Fortunately, the planned addition at Bugbee will not be needed in 2009 due to lower than previously projected enrollment.  The project will be reevaluated later this year based on new enrollment projections and the town’s financial situation.  Terry Schmitt indicated his intent to keep the Charter Oak Improvement Committee in place, though any actual construction there will have to wait also.

 

David Downes, Director of Continuing and Summer Education, reported an increase in both the number of courses offered (102) and students enrolled (1,461) in this year’s summer school programs for pre-K through high school students.  Though West Hartford’s summer school enrolls mostly local students, pre-K through 8th graders came here from 15 different towns, while the high school program drew from 31 towns.  Mr. Downes stated that our program is different from most in its offering of non-credit enrichment courses and that the only other Connecticut town he is aware of with a comparable program is Westport.  His complete report is available at http://www.whps.org/board/agenda-documents/20081021/summer%20school%20review%202008.pdf.

 

The next board meeting will take place November 6 at 7:00 p.m. in room 314 at Town Hall.

 

Observer name:  Kathy Wilson