September 3, 2008

'Up or down' on new schools, school chief pleads

Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this:

The city has to come to a decision whether it will move forward with the plan to build two new, 900-student K-8 schools, said Superintendent Phil Streifer.

"It's time for an up or down vote," said Streifer. "It's just that simple. We've got to move this forward."

Streifer said the K-8 school project is high on his own agenda. He said he's hoping the district will be able to move ahead with the plan.

"We're on schedule and we really can't get behind," said Streifer. "We don't have a lot of time here."

The deadline for the project – if the city is to get the state aid at the rate currently promised – is in the summer of 2010, less than two years from now.

"By that time, we have to have a signed construction contract," said Streifer, or lose the 73.9 percent state reimbursement for the project.

The state promise "is about as high as it's gonna get," said Streifer.

If the city passes that deadline without a contract in place, Bristol will have to reapply for state aid. Streifer said he doesn't know what rate the city would get then.

"I don't know if it'll be dramatically less, but it'll be less," said Streifer. He said inflation on construction projects is running about 7 percent a year, so the same project years from now will cost much more.

He wants to see a "thumbs up or thumbs down" decision on the K-8 plan, Streifer said.

"It's been on the burner a long time," said Streifer.

Streifer said he believes in the K-8 system "in this setting."

The K-8 system, Streifer said, would work in Bristol.

"K-8s tend to work better in more urban environments," said Streifer.

A K-8 format would reduce the number of students who change schools each year, Streifer said, because each school would have a larger geographic area to draw from.

Half the moves that students make are within the district, said Streifer.

The K-8 system also helps draw parents in, said Streifer, because once a parent gets involved in a school, they tend to stay.

"If you can get a parent engaged in a school, they tend to stay engaged in the school," said Streifer.

There aren't enough parents who are involved as volunteers in the city's schools, said Streifer, and encouraging more of them would help students.

Another plus with a K-8 school, Streifer said, is that the students would be in a "smaller learning community" because there would be fewer students in each grade.

It would mean a middle school of about 300 students, said Streifer.

"It's just fewer kids," said Streifer.

Besides drawing parents in and having fewer students in each middle school, Streifer offered another reason: money.

"This is the most cost effective solution of all the alternatives that have been looked at," said Streifer.

*******
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

41 comments:

john cullen said...

New Schools

A few things that are perplexing about this “ultimatum”:

According to a recent article in the Hartford Courant regarding renovations to Trinity College’s oldest buildings (1870s and ‘80’s), the renovation cost of $300 per square foot, including giving great attention to architectural details, was still less than the $350 per square foot average for the construction of new academic buildings in the state. It is an interesting read. http://www.courant.com/business/hc-trinity0708.artjul08,0,4632488.story

Once again, there is a call to do something that is very expensive and will significantly impact the future of this city – could improve it, could completely cripple it. The plan is far from a no-brainer from many angles, and I fear being impetuous about the schools needs will add another “shoulda” to a long list of missteps we’ve made as a city in the past.

The Superintendent notes that this is indeed a switch at these proposed schools to a K-8 format. I have heard the Board of Ed members deny this, stating they will be separate K-5 and 6-8 schools sharing a single facility. This vacillation doesn’t make me feel very warm and fuzzy about the school hierarchies’ unity in regard to this being the best way to improve our schools. It seems like they’ll say anything to move this along.

The concept of parent involvement getting a boost appears to be a reach. Look us in the eye and tell us you will improve on the involvement of parents from Bingham, O’Connell, and Greene-Hills and even the Boulevard simply by building these structures. You would have to overcome the chaos of different arrival and departure times, facility use times for extra curricular activities as well as the larger physical plant size (intimidating) and teacher/student populations. There could be some debate on this issue, but couching it as a reason to do this?

The math doesn’t work when I try to figure out how three grammar schools are replaced by two K-8 schools and the grade population is reduced. The math works for the middle school grades that would convert to this new format, but not for a majority of grades. Another argument put forth I simply don’t understand, let alone consider compelling.

The Superintendent refers to Bristol as a “more urban environment”. There may surely be some data and statistics that place Bristol in a category one could portray as “urban”, but the backbone, heart, soul and substance of Bristol is not urban. Bristol is a big small town, and the more that can be done to keep it that way, the better off it will be. This is not a “blinders on” statement. It is not simply to the credit of the school system, administrators and teachers that Bristol has been more successful than other “comparable” districts at educating our youth. The sense of community that this city clings to has a very large part to do with it as well.

There is little “textbook urban” about Bristol, and I think not only the leaders of our schools, but our city leaders as well need to remain mindful of this. It’s time to stop dreaming about what Bristol is not and dealing with what it is. It’s a small town community with a lot of people, though we seem to manage, and putting up two big schools at the far reaches of its boarders will surely help destroy that. And citing fiscal responsibility, when that contention is questionable at best, for abandoning the current buildings is a very poor argument. I am not convinced, and feel the cost analysis and feasibility study relied on for this decision to be made may well be flawed.

I think it is very important to pull in the oars and really take a look at what can and can’t be done with downtown and the new traffic flow into the city in total with the school facility needs being a part of that analysis. Take the time, be thorough, don’t get stuck in the mud and above all else, don’t settle. If something is going to be done, doing it right and doing what is best is generally always worth the investment. Let’s not do something that really isn’t worth it just because state $ is available (there will be something available down the road, and for the superintendent to predict the future about that funding in the dire manner he did sounded like a threat rather than a statement of cost possibilities to consider). Let’s figure this out correctly and make it a big step toward regaining our credibility and momentum. One thing I agree with the Superintendent about is the need to decide this issue, and sending it back to the drawing board makes the most sense to me.

be well,
john cullen

Anonymous said...

NO NEW SCHOOLS!

Anonymous said...

HASTE MAKES WASTE...

JUST SAY NO!!!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Streifer has been reduced to begging the mayor to get off the fence.

Anonymous said...

Who hired this idiot?

Anonymous said...

Bristols slide downhill is accelerated by its negative support of Education.

And that is affecting ALL property owners.

Dr. Streffer is correct, make a decision.

Ward IS NOT providing any leadership at all.

chris wilson said...

Steve: public official or not. There is no reason to permit the name calling of the previous post. As a community member I find it unacceptable! There must be a standard of decorum even in a blog!


chris wilson

Steve Collins said...

Chris, I kill the really bad stuff. "Idiot" seems a ridiculous way to describe Streifer, who clearly is well-educated and professional, but I think it's important to recognize there are people who think he is. In fact, some have far worse words for him. I don't let them get through. And now they'll probably say the same about you! And me, of course, but that goes with the territory.

Anonymous said...

Chris Wilson shows that it's more important for BOE members to stick up for the administration than it is to represent the people.

Anonymous said...

Chris is doing his duty as a certified education groupie.

Good boy.

chris wilson said...

To: Steve and the vitriolic posters. If you think I am an education groupie-so be it. But I suspect you don't know me very well! All I am asking is the comments be respectful and courteous. Mr. Streifer has been professional and respectfull to all in the community since his arrival and we as a community owe him the same. If we don't speak out against those that spew venom in a hurtful, hateful and mean spirited manner-that sort of behavior becomes acceptable. I believe, collectively, we can ask more of ourselves. Disagreement is acceptable but being disagreeable is not in my opinion. Hopefully there are more people that agree with me otherwise our community will be a much more unpleasant place to live. The words we use say a lot about the person! If one can only use venomous words they probably don't have a very expansive vocabulary-anonymous or otherwise.

Steve Collins said...

I agree with you, Chris, and look forward to more postings from people who argue a point with intelligence and flair instead of tossing insults.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Streifer demonstrates the typical inappropriate behavior demonstrated by School Superintendents. That behavior is pushing an agenda rather than administrating. I guess we should be glad that Mr. Streifer publicly states his unproven and very debatable opinion in regards to building new mega-schools, rather than keeping his pressure on the BOE confined to the privacy of the BOE meetings.

It's be nice if Republican BOE member Chris Wilson was so ruffled by comments regarding his Republican colleagues who are in or have run for office as he was about comments in regards to Mr. Streifer's innapropriate and debatable rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Streiffer is showing leadership: he has the educational responsibilty for our children.

By the way, I see Dr. Streiffer at more city events than I see some of our elected officials. He truly is interested in Bristol.

Anonymous said...

As far as the city making a $1.5 million expenditure, Mr. Streiffer should keep his opinion private until summoned to give his opinion by city officials who have a more direct connection to the voters.

But again, Superintendents pushing their agendas is not new or exclusive to Bristol or Mr. Streiffer.

Anonymous said...

"It's time for an up or down vote," said Streifer. "It's just that simple. We've got to move this forward."

--Totally innappropriate!!!!

Anonymous said...

"He truly is interested in Bristol"

--Gee I hope so. He's getting paid enough to!

Anonymous said...

The elected officials MAY have a more direct contact with the voters, but do they have a CLUE as to what is needed to make Bristol a better city???

Anonymous said...

When Dr. Streiffer was selected he moved to Bristol with his family.

The Comptroller, the PWKS Director, The Planner, The BDA Director all live out of town.

Dr. Streiffer does care about Bristol!

Anonymous said...

September 4, 2008 9:25 PM:

Who cares? And BTW the "Planner" lives in Canton. You don't know what you're talking about.

Anonymous said...

11:47

Read my post again. I said the planner lives out of town and I know Canton is out of town.

Anonymous said...

September 5, 2008 10:41 AM;

You're correct, my mistake. But again who cares?

And by the way the Planner lives out of Bristol assuring that there would be no conflict of interest regarding his decisions.

Anonymous said...

If Mr. Superintendent wants to play the role of "resident", then why should his opinion bear any more weight than anyone elses?

Anonymous said...

A basic civics lesson for the poster on 9/4 at 9:25 PM: the Comptroller, the Public Works Director, the Planner, and the BDA Director - in addition to working for the Mayor and City Council - are each answerable to at least one board or commission and are responsible for implementing the policies established by those boards and commissions. While staff members may provide their technical expertise and offer their recommendations, in the end those final policy decisions are entirely n the hands of those boards and commissions. Last time I checked, every member of those boards - City Council, Board of Finance, Board of Public Works, Planning Commission, Zoning Commission, and BDA - was a resident of the City of Bristol.

cseguin said...

Chris,
I absolutely agree with your postings. Unfortunately, while there have been some insightful and intelligent posts on this board, there are also quite a few posters who choose, anonymously, to use the blog to make unkind comments about other citizens, whether or not they're public officials. Disagreeing with a public official's comments or rationale is one thing. Calling him an "idiot" because of said disagreement is quite another.

As I've said before, it is perfectly acceptable (and, in a democracy, necessary) to voice concerns when elected officials have acted in a disagreeable manner. However, the name-calling and vitriol that is used on this blog goes a bit overboard.

Steve has given the citizens a public forum to, in an adult manner, discuss the events and issues that affect Bristol residents. Hopefully, in the future, these discussions can be held in an adult manner, without the name-calling.

Anonymous said...

sequin:
Enough already. This is serious business. We don't need your lttle morality lessons especially when it comes from a non-resident, younster like yourself.

All these public school administrators are a bunch of ding-bats as far as I'm concerned. I don't know if it's because it takes a ding-bat to succeed in the left-wing bureaucracy that is the public school system or their minds get negatively manipulated by the process. If that's name-calling...so be it.

They are naive. Wasta was so warped, I believe he was clinically insane. Take everything they say with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

All these administrators know is spend, spend, spend. That's the game. I consider that fact idiotic.

Anonymous said...

I was in a store once and Chris W. was in front of me in line. Chris had a short, one way conversation with the guy in Spanish. Impressive, except (almost anyone could tell, the guy was either Indian or Pakinstani, he was not Spanish.

cseguin said...

@ 3:55 pm

I understand this is serious business, and I respect the fact that you have issues with the education leaders in town. Although I don't live in Bristol anymore, I grew up in town, and went through the public school system. I still have family members who live in town, and I go back to visit quite often. I understand all too well the importance that the Board of Education, the Superintendent, and other educational leaders hold in the town. I may be a "younster," but I'm also someone who likes to engage in productive conversation about my hometown, a city that holds an important place in my heart.

To the other posters - I also know that Chris cares about the educational system. He didn't have to run for a Board of Education spot, and he doesn't need to utilize his spare time. He does it because he wants the best for Bristol's children, and he wants to help. The comments directed at him in this post string are rude, at best. If you have a problem with the policies of Board of Education, an adult discussion of those issues would be more productive than the angry responses that have been posted.

I may not agree with everything that they say, but I have a whole lot more respect for Chris, John Cullen, and the other posters who put their name alongside their postings than those who lob insults while hiding behind their anonymity.

Also - to the person who has sent me a pair of, to put it mildly, angry emails, I would ask that you stop. I don't know how you got my email address, but I don't appreciate the nasty anonymous emails I have received. You may disagree with what I've posted, but at least I haven't been calling people names or making personal attacks.

Anonymous said...

10:03

No conflict, but also no interest!!

Civic lessoner:
Guess you haven't attended many meetings. Most Board members sit on their hands and let professional staff direct them.

And they have no administrative say over staff.

Anonymous said...

Guess you haven't attended many meetings. Most Board members sit on their hands and let professional staff direct them.

That may well be. But when all is said and done, it still remains the responsibility of the city's boards and commissions (all of which are comprised on Bristol residents) - not the professional staff - to make the policy decisions they feel are in the city's best interest. Ultimately, it's the boards and commissions who are accountable to the public for their actions.

Anonymous said...

seguin:

What are you talking about regarding "angry responses" to Wilson? He tried talking in Spanish to a Pakistani guy which in my mind makes him...well you decide...not too worldly at least. I'm not angry, I'm LOL, OK?

To be honest young man, you're naive. Do yourself a favor and get over yourself and stop posting here.

Sincerely,
a secret, non-admirer. (who never emailed you BTW)

cseguin said...

@ 4:25 pm

I classify posts mocking others as "angry posts." You're free to disagree.

I also don't think of myself as "naive." I may be a young adult, but I've seen quite a bit, and have a decent understanding of the way the Board of Education and other public bodies work. I will also freely admit that I have things to learn. One of the reasons I post on this board is to learn from those who have something productive to say.

Despite your advice, I will continue to post on the board. Steve has done a great thing in creating a forum where Bristol residents (and those with family in Bristol) can keep up-to-date on community happenings. One thing I won't do is begin lobbing anonymous insults at others, or supporting those who do.

Anonymous said...

3:31

The only board or commission that is accountable to the people is the Board of EDucation.

The voters have nothing to say about board membership.

Wanna make a change: talk to the mayor, for whatever good it will do.

Anonymous said...

seguin:

That's fine. When I see your name, I pretty much ignore your posting anyway.

Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

seguin:

Is must be a nice life being a liberal Democrat satisfied with the status quo here in rust belt Connecticut huh?

I make that analysis based on the fact that you think the public education industry is above an insult among all your other pacifistic opinions.

Anonymous said...

seguin:

You're a hypocritical phoney as well. I have yet to see you (in your high-minded fashion) scold one Republican basher, conservative-hater or (for example) Sarah Palin or local Republican insulter.

Hypocrisy (just like many other liberals) is your middle name.

Anonymous said...

The Republican representatives on the BOE are ALL benefactors of minority representation. As a matter of fact they always are every year. So before we genuflect with gratitude for their service, we must realize that there were 3 other candidates who ran, whom were much less palatable to the teachers union (thus they received less votes).

And again Seguin, your inability to recognize these facts, in my mind shows naivity rather than lack of ability (if I may be say).

Anonymous said...

"Civic lessoner:
Guess you haven't attended many meetings. Most Board members sit on their hands and let professional staff direct them"

--100% factual and sad.

cseguin said...

The funniest thing about all of this is that I'm not a liberal. I'm fiscally quite conservative (in favor of low taxes, small government, and very limited government spending), and I've voted Republican in the last two Presidential elections (as well in state and local elections). While I'm not thrilled with McCain's VP choice (I think he should have gone with Hutchison from Texas if he was going the woman route), but I still plan on voting Republican in this election, and am firmly against Obama's candidacy.

But, that doesn't have a whole lot to do with the conversation. I'm not defending the actions of any school officials, and I'm not commenting on the relative merits of state or local allocations to the new schools. My comments were limited to my distaste for the anonymous name-calling which continues to occur on the board.

So, while I appreciate your concerns of me being some "liberal Democrat," rest assured that it is not the case. Ask Steve, he'll vouch for my Conservative credentials...

Anonymous said...

Seguin:

You're an osterich. Go stick your head in the sand.