SOUTHINGTON - Town Council members strongly rejected a proposal by teachers union President Dan Hart at the council’s recent meeting to offset state cuts with a supplemental tax bill.
Hart spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, after press deadline. He said he knew that the council had difficult decisions to make and urged them to “stand strong for education.”
“In a worst case scenario, students will find that they have to get a new teacher instead of the teachers that they have bonded with since August because they have been laid off,” he said. “They will go from 25 student classes with their old teacher to 30 student classes with their new one. But this doesn’t have to play out.”
Hart suggested that putting out a supplemental tax bill or dipping into the town’s rainy day fund could potentially be alternatives for offsetting state education cost sharing cuts.
“We as teachers hope that our elected officials will work together to solve this problem,” he said.
Democratic Councilor John Barry and Republican Councilor Mike Riccio both responded directly to Hart, rejecting a supplemental tax bill in no uncertain terms.
Barry thanked Hart for his service with the Teacher’s Union, but said that Riccio and Councilor Chris Palmieri had notified the Board of Education last September that a significant shortfall was expected.
“You were given a lot of notice that this financial doom was occurring in the state,” said Barry. “The Board of Education has had since September to formulate a plan to address the shortfall. There are still a lot of unknowns, but in my opinion a supplemental tax bill is off the table. I am not going to consider a supplemental tax bill and I don’t want the teachers union to think that’s an option. I hope that this is not something that is discussed again. I hope that we can work together with the Board of Education to find solutions and I anticipate that we will find savings.”
Barry later said that he knows that the rest of the Democratic majority opposes a supplemental tax bill. He said unions throughout the state have recognized the fiscal crisis and taken furlough days and made cuts. He said he had never heard of a teachers union president proposing a supplemental tax bill before.
Riccio also did not mince words in stating his strong opposition.
“This is a rare occasion where I agree with John 100 percent,” Riccio said. “But I want to take this a little further. Dan, I know you are in a tough spot, but it’s time that we saw some creativity come out of the Board of Education. Stop going after our kids and our teachers and using them as bait to get more money. I’m tired of it. You are handing out raises like it’s a candy store. Stop going after the taxpayers’ money and stop going after middle school sports. The superintendent just gave out a $30,000 raise and it was done in an underhanded way after the budget process last year. Enough is enough is enough. The Board of Education needs to start making some major changes starting at the top down. It’s a joke what’s going on in that building.”
Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan later said that Riccio’s statements about the Board of Education were incorrect and suggested that they were intended to score political points. The Board of Education only took action on non-union salaries and wages after the General Assembly adopted a state budget.
“If someone gave me a $30,000 raise I’m certainly not aware of it,” he said. “All non-union employees were given a modest increase. My salary for fiscal year 2016-2017 was $191,000. For 2017-2018 it would have been $195,000 but because the increase didn’t take effect until Dec. 1 it ended up coming to $193,000. That is a 1.22 percent increase of $2,000. Many collective bargaining units have also agreed to a 0 percent increase for 2018 to 2019 so I’d say that’s pretty good fiscal leadership.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.