Chairman’s unusual motion suggests underlying problems
Board of Education Chairman Kathleen O’Brien made an unusual motion Tuesday night during the board’s regular meeting at Town Hall. In her chairman’s report to the board, she suddenly proposed a plan to take all of the town’s seventh- and eighth-grade teachers out to dinner, at the expense of taxpayers.The motion was odd for a number of reasons, not the least of which being the fact that no one had any warning it was coming up. An item was never included on the agenda, but O’Brien seemed to think it was important enough to make it the subject of her report to the board.“We are getting ready to move our seventh- and eighth-grade program to The Gilbert School, and I want to make it perfectly clear that we are not doing this because we think there is anything wrong in the seventh or eighth grade,” O’Brien said. “We have seen nothing but improvement in reading and math. What I want to do is celebrate all the work that teachers and staff have done for students over the years and have a dinner out for them.”O’Brien expressed concern that teachers in the seventh and eighth grades may be feeling unfairly punished by the Board of Education’s decision to move the grades out of Pearson Middle School and up to the town’s semi-private high school. “I honestly feel that the teachers feel they have done something wrong, which they have not,” she said. If this sudden concern for the feelings of K-through-8 teachers wasn’t peculiar enough, O’Brien went on to make the specific motion — that the board approve spending “some money” for the dinner in question, to celebrate Winsted’s teachers. One obvious question came from board member Christine Royer, who asked O’Brien where they would get the money for the celebratory dinner.“We’ll find it,” O’Brien replied.Unbelievably, without dissenting discussion, members of the school board unanimously approved O’Brien’s motion. No actual plans for the teachers’ dinner were announced, and no one ventured a guess as to how much the night out would cost.Clearly, O’Brien and others on the board are feeling some regret for the decision they made earlier in the year to send the seventh and eighth grades to Gilbert, beginning this fall. The move was ostensibly made to save money, but there is no sign of that savings in the board’s proposed 2011-12 budget. “Even though the budget has gone up, this is an economic choice to make this a more fiscally sound district,” O’Brien said, unconvincingly.O’Brien’s sudden motion Tuesday night, which was improper, may have been an emotional response to an increasingly obvious problem — that the school board has lost direction. The suddenness of the motion represented what a lot of people are thinking about education in Winsted — that decisions are haphazardly thrown together, without regard for a serious financial crisis, and that elected members of the board are not spending enough time developing well-reasoned policies.If seventh- and eighth-grade teachers are offended by the shifting of grades, they have every right. Instead of showing support for the school system under their direct supervision, members of the Board of Education have negotiated a deal that gives greater power to Winsted’s semi-private high school while making life more difficult for teachers and students in the K-through-8 system. More importantly, the move hasn’t saved a nickel for the town, even as it stands to put teachers out of work. Celebrating with a dinner on the taxpayer’s dime is just adding insult to injury.