Letter: Post story had tone of an attack

To the Editor:

A story in the Aug. 15 Connecticut Post noting that our Board of Education for “sitting on a pot of money it has borrowed” had the tone of an attack.

In July 2012, the Town Council approved $2.5 million for capital investments — a roof at Madison Middle School and some environmental improvements. Only $200,000 has been spent, leading the reporter to state that if the remaining funds are unspent by September 2014 the IRS can assess a penalty on interest earned on the those funds.

Though the reporter trumpeted a potential penalty, she neglected to inform readers whether the amount might be $1,000, or $1 million, or something in between.

Worse, to the reporter, was that “there are no blueprints,” and, she added, “safety issues seemed so urgent (yet) only a small fraction has been spent.”

The reporter seemed not to know that the responsible party for capital investment planning, Steven Kennedy, the district's Maintenance Division Head, is also responsible for managing day-to-day facilities related operations. She did note, in passing rather than understanding, that he was also responsible for dealing with Sandy and Nemo, then overseeing the dramatic security upgrades following the Newtown tragedy.

In addition, he was recently given responsibility for completing Trumbull High School’s $62 million Renovation as new.

The reporter pointed at Dr. Gary Cialfi, recently named to replace his former boss as superintendent. Cialfi said that his eye is on the big ball — the high school — whose slow pace of construction became a punch line in the 2013 edition of Trillium, the school’s yearbook, for a senior class that spent its entire four years learning in a construction zone.

Yet after all that “investigation,” the reporter never presented the administration’s response. Business Manager Sean O'Keefe acknowledged to this reporter that “we should have spent more time on this program,” and he agrees “we need to get moving so we don't incur the penalty.”

He added that Kennedy is preparing a detailed investment plan for the next 12 months at the behest of Trumbull's Director of Finance, Maria Pires.

It must be noted, however, that Trumbull's First Selectman Tim Herbst, and its Board of Finance Chair Elaine Hammers, pride themselves that our schools’ cost per pupil is well below the median in our District Reference Group — 21 towns across the state with comparable demographics and student needs — and that we are also among the least well funded of communities in this area.

Might it be that the ongoing school budget cuts have left the administration short handed, and unable to give every need the attention required — and particularly so when careful plans are upset by priority needs that force the reallocation of scarce resources?

Is the issue real? Perhaps. But not enough to warrant such an alarm-provoking story at this time. Leave a private meeting of senior town officials and school district leaders private and give the administration an agreed upon period to prepare and present their plan to the education board.

Roy Fuchs, Democratic candidate for Town Council, District 3