Region One: Doomed To Repeat History?

region 1 scenicsUpdate: Below in the comment thread is the full text of Ruth’s piece. Please forgive the line breaks.

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There is a fascinating article (paywall) in this morning’s Republican American by Ruth Epstein on the last time Regional School District Number One endured multiple budget defeats.

At that time, almost 20 years ago, my wife and I were childless and both working out of the region, so we paid little attention to the local school budget, even though two-thirds of our property tax dollars went to it. Now with two kids in the high school, we’re “invested.” Oh, what a difference a couple of decades can make.

Ruth’s research indicates a situation that was, in many ways, remarkably similar to the one we have now. It was 1994. Marvin “Muff” Maskovsky was the superintendent and the late great Jack Mahoney was Housatonic’s principal. Interestingly, following the first budget defeat, several administrators agreed to one-year wage freezes and several positions were also cut: “a language arts coordinator, a part-time math coordinator and several secretarial positions.” After the fourth rejection, the board conducted forums in some of the district’s towns. But voters seemed to indicate that the repeated budget failures weren’t about the money:

Speaking at one meeting was board Chairman Geoffrey Drury of Canaan, who said he was perplexed by the continuous defeats. “The logic of the negative vote seems elusive and the most difficult aspect of how to respond. We’ve been told time and again that it’s not a dollar issue and that other things are eating at voters. But those other things are scattered. Everyone seems to have a different reason for voting it down.”

And there was this:

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Region One Math Lessons

math lessonsA quick note of amusement: My wife, who is slightly better at math than I am, pointed out an obvious flaw in Marshall Miles’ dimwitted assertion that the repeated rejections of the Region One budget have saved the district money, even factoring in the cost of all those districtwide referenda.

In an embarrassingly inept post this morning, Miles argued that my figures in a previous post are wrong because the $40,000 that has been spent so far on the five failed referenda has been dwarfed by the $250,000 in cumulative cuts the Board of Education has made to its proposed budgets since the first rejection. So he has saved us money and deserves thanks.

But as of today (and for the foreseeable future), we are still operating on last year’s budget — not the budget that was rejected yesterday. So where are the savings? And where is the money coming from to pay for the five referenda? Does the Region One BOE have $40,000 sitting around in a line item for budget votes? I don’t think so.

Next time you want to do the math, find someone who had Ed Epstein as a teacher in middle school. I went to a fancy prep school after KCS and I can tell you that Ed, who graciously defended me in Miles’ hideous post, was the best math teacher I ever had — bar none.

Region One Budget Fails For 5th Time

My reaction to Region One’s fifth budget defeat in a row can be summed up in one tweet:

I am officially no longer interested. My kids are getting a good education and the political agitators continue to press for a pound of flesh. If those folks insist on spending thousands of dollars — none of which will go toward education — on monthly referenda, then so be. I have better things to think about.

P.S. The Region One Report blog is hyperventilating that the Central Office misreported the above results. Evidently, the Sharon yes votes should have read 82 instead of 28.

Harnett’s Reasons For Leaving HVRHS


Lest anyone doubt that Housatonic Valley Regional High School Principal Matt Harnett’s recent resignation had anything to do with the political climate in Region One, read excerpts of his resignation letter to Board Chairman Jonathan Moore, as reported (paywall) by the Republican American:

“Over the past several months a series of events have caused me to re-evaluate and reconsider my per­sonal and professional goals. The past two years have been very challenging and rewarding. However, the current political climate and the tension that exists in the relationship between the ad­ministration and some mem­bers of the school board and the community have led me to this decision.

“Unfortunately, there have been too many occasions in the last two years where I have felt that some members of the board and the community has had little understanding or respect for what is taking place at the high school and the work that we do here.”

I understand where Harnett’s coming from. I once worked at a private school here in Connecticut. By my sixth year at the school, I had become head of the English Department, director of professional development, a member of the curriculum committee and chair of the panel that decided the fate of students involved in serious disciplinary infractions. In other words, I was becoming an increasingly important administrator at the school.

That fall, I was approached by a board member asking if I would be willing to meet with a group of other trustees to talk about the school without any other administrators present. At that point, I knew the headmaster who hired me was in serious jeopardy of losing his job. So I started looking for employment almost immediately, did not find anything suitable and so stayed on for the next year to work for the new head. Then in March I was informed by the new head that, along with several other administrators and teachers, my contract would not be renewed for the following year.

Harnett had to know that the days of the superintendent and her assistant were numbered and that the board was poised for significant change as well. In other words, the people who hired him wouldn’t be around any longer to protect him, so he jumped ship. Sound familiar? It sure does to me.

I do think the Region One BOE is making the right decision in appointing Assistant Principal Ian Strever as interim principal. From what I hear, Strever is very capable and has the respect of both the students and the faculty. His appointment also injects a measure of stability into a chaotic situation.

Update: View the entire letter by clicking on the image below.


Harnett’s Exit Accelerates Region One Decline

Even before the latest news broke this week, it was hard to imagine the situation at our local school district, Region One, could get any worse.

But with the sudden departure this week of Housatonic Principal Matt Harnett to head a Bristol middle school, the Region One fiasco has accelerated to absurd new heights. It harkens us back to three years ago when the principal and assistant principal quit just days before the opening of school. Once again, something was so wrong at the high school that a top leader was willing to risk his career to leave Falls Village for what can only be seen as a demotion.

After learning of Harnett’s departure, which was broken by The Lakeville Journal on its website Thursday afternoon, I put up the following tweet:

To which a reader responded:

You couldn’t possibly be thinking of blaming this on those who voted no to the budget…? I mean that would really be silly. How many principals/teachers/staff need to leave before this is figured out? It’s pretty clear to anyone who has an open mind and eyes.

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A Perfect Storm Doomed Region One

region 1My letter to the editor in today’s Lakeville Journal:

In his letter to the editor of this newspaper last week, Brian Kavanagh misrepresented remarks I made in my blog, as reported by The Litchfield County Times, regarding the Region One budget.

I did not “demonize” those who opposed passage of the budget as “churlish.” I labeled their message as churlish. That’s an important difference, as sometimes even smart people do less-than-smart things. Furthermore, I did not suggest all budget opponents are disengaged from the goings on at Region One and don’t care about education. I was referring only to the “shrillest voices” — a distinction that was lost on Mr. Kavanagh because he evidently did not read the blog post but relied only on the LCT’s reporting of it. If Mr. Kavanagh finds my words to be “rude, in a mean-spirited way,” then he should visit the Region One Report blog to see the fevered invective routinely hurled at school officials.

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A Statewide Property Tax For Connecticut Schools? Think Again

CTNewsJunkie_bigMore of my recent columns for CT News Junkie:


Region 1 Budget: Ask Yourself What No Accomplishes

housatonicBefore you walk into your town hall today and slam our regional school budget — for the fourth time this year, no less — please do a cost-benefit analysis. What exactly is to be gained and what is the price to be paid in sticking it to the much despised Region 1 Board of Education and its top administrators?

From what I can tell, this habitual rejection of the budget is all about making people feel good about themselves: “We told them off. We showed those bastards how we feel!” Set aside your feelings for the moment and ask yourself what a fourth rejection accomplishes. Housatonic parent Karen Dignacco has done that much better than I could in the post previous post.

Sure, a no vote means we proceed on last year’s spending plan, so it’s not as if the region will be crippled by spending cuts. But the ongoing lack of a budget casts a pall over the high school. As Principal Matt Harnett told Dignacco, the school will be ready to open late next month as scheduled, but “Unfortunately moving anything forward, trying new strategies, implementing new plans and initiatives is difficult if not impossible — so we sort of maintain and wait for the dust to settle and see where we go from there.”

Furthermore, if memory serves, each referendum costs about $8,000. Is this really a good use of taxpayers funds?

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Enough Already: Vote Yes On The Region One Budget Today

region 1From Karen Dignacco, a parent from Sharon:

The following are a few comments/thoughts/observations re: the Region One Budget.  They are my own opinions based on what I’ve read of the budget and the Pingpank report.  They do not represent any board or organization on which I serve or for which I volunteer.

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Woe Is The State Government

ctnewsjunkieMore than a month’s worth of my columns for CT News Junkie is linked here: