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Guest Column

January 22, 2007

Austin Cesare
Edward Sullivan

Match of the Century

At the Jan. 9 Board of Education meeting, we encouraged moving central office administrators into Government Center. As result, this topic has again become a focus of debate in town politics. Several times in recent years the idea has been bantered about. But now it looks like there is a willingness to pursue it with more vigor.

For too long there has been a “great divide” among the Town Council, mayor and the Board of Education. The “us” versus “them” mentality has long permeated the political debate between these entities. By locating these two functions of government in one building, it will allow for better transparency for both elected officials and townspeople alike.

This would be a cost-saving measure. Some departments may be consolidated. Perhaps finance and purchasing could be streamlined. Building maintenance and grounds keeping could also be combined, since both would be housed in the same building. By enabling us to combine and streamline departments, the money that is allocated to the Board could then be spent on the education of our children, as opposed to having it spent on duplication of services and on overlapping departments. The fact that both departments would be located in one building could save the town tens of thousands of dollars in the long run, and more importantly, it would be more convenient for Hamden taxpayers. This has been done successfully in other municipalities, and it should be done here.

As for the old central office building, town officials have yet to discuss what would happen with the 60 Putnam Ave. site. This topic needs to be addressed before any “rush to judgment” or “just do it” attitude is put forth. Creating an ad-hoc committee to obtain resident input on this is a viable option. One idea is to sell the building and put it back on the tax rolls. The Board could then relocate the REACHES/STEPS program to either the Alice Peck building or the Leeder Hill Drive facility where several New Haven schools have leased property over the last few years during their reconstruction.

Another option is the Hamden School District could look at relocating alternative education and/or out-placement programs (some cost up to $40,000 per student) back to Putnam Avenue, saving us money in the long run. Regardless of what is done with the site, the best interest of Hamden's schoolchildren must always be taken into account.

It is important to note that regardless of the decision that is made, the Board of Education and town should work together in a cooperative manner to bring about this change. We need to ensure that the best outcome is achieved for all taxpayers and the departments that continue to serve them. After all, we are entrusted with the taxpayers’ money. Let’s not be foolish in how we spend it.

Austin Cesare and Edward Sullivan are Republican Board of Education members.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

January 5, 2007

Austin Cesare

This School Budget Must be Realistic

As I complete my first year on the Hamden Board of Education, I have come to some very definite conclusions. Hamden has a diverse curriculum that offers its students one of the best and most well-rounded educations one could ask for. But we need to balance their educational needs with the fiscal reality of the town.

As a town, with our eight elementary schools, state-of-the-art middle school and a high school that has numerous course electives, we have done much to offer a good quality education for our citizens. While the CMT scores continue to need improvement, we are making strides in putting in place reading and writing programs that will help. Programs such as Fast Forward, Haskins and Read 180 continue to help students who are struggling to get caught up. While these programs are important, nothing is more important than parents stepping up to the plate and getting involved in their child's education. Teachers cannot do this work alone.

This Board has had some significant successes. We managed to accomplish some major priorities. We eliminated student athletic fees, outsourced the grounds keeping at the elementary schools and have taken a more proactive approach when dealing with non-residents attending our schools illegally. We have extensively reviewed programs that are in place, and are eliminating those that are not working. We continue to hold the administration to task on proving the necessity of expenditures. We have opened up lines of communication between Board members and parents acting as liaisons to various schools. I, myself, am responsible for Church Street School and have encouraged upgrades to the facility over the last year. To open up lines of communication with teachers, we held a forum to help us identify district-wide areas for improvement.

In terms of the next education budget, we need to tighten our belts. This fiscal year, I expect, will probably be the most difficult one in recent memory. We as a Board of Education need to be reminded of the reality that we do not have an endless supply of taxpayer money to turn to, and we need to also look at ways in which we can do more with less. Philosophically, I would like to see a 2007-2008 Board of Education budget that does not force the Council to raise taxes. I do not want the Board of Education budget to be one of the excuses for more tax increases. While I know realistically, with our contractual obligations, a small or even zero percent increase would be difficult to deal with, I do believe that by giving the Board of Education just that, it will force us to be more creative and frugal in our spending. It will force us to make the cuts we need to make for the betterment of our education system in the long run.

I believe that a small or zero increase in the 2007-2008 budget will force the administration and the Board to be more accountable with the taxpayers dollars. This will not make the lives of Board members easy, but then again, it is our job to make not only tough decisions, but also the right ones. It will thrust onto central office the realization that they do not have an endless supply of money to turn to, and hopefully will encourage them to be more frugal in their expenses in the future.

 Indeed, the status quo has got to go!

Austin Cesare is a Republican member of the Hamden Board of Education and chair of the Curriculum Committee.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.

November 14, 2006

Joseph P. McDonagh

Ending the Bush Nightmare is Not 'Liberal' -- Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

I've read and heard a lot of things about the next Congress, about how this new crop of Democrats is "different" from the past. That they are not liberal at all. For myself, I think the media are engaging in wordplay, redefining liberalism in order to reject it, or to pretend that this group of newly elected senators and congressmen and women is not really liberal, and therefore not really Democrats.

Consider this from Sunday's New York Times: When Chris Shays first went to Washington, D.C., in 1987, he was one of nine Republican congressmen from New England; in January, when he is sworn in, he will be the only one. New England is completely blue in the House, except for Fairfield County. Does that suggest a conservative resurgence in the Democratic Party?

When Democrats last held the House, in 1994, many of them were from the South. In this new Congress, Democrats picked up seats in (besides New England and New York) Arizona, California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Southern states? Texas and Florida are the exceptions (there are still some races that haven't been called). But we won't have, in this new Congress, a Dixiecrat House or Senate, which was true of the 1994 and previous Democratic-controlled congresses.

While some of these people who were elected aren't in favor of gun control, and a lot was made of Bob Casey (Pennsylvania's new senator) and his support of right to life, the fact is that the new Democrats in the House and Senate are a lot more united on issues of substance than the media would want you to believe.

The media are defining what a Democrat is, and then are trying to convince the American public that this new Congress isn't. Well, they are wrong. And it really doesn’t matter if you define the issues as liberal or not. But the 100-hour agenda of the next Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the next Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid includes the following: raise minimum wage, expand federal funding of stem cell research, implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, cut interest rates on the federal student loan program in half, allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Part D, re-institute “pay as you go” for federal programs (meaning that no new legislation can be passed if it increases the federal deficit) and roll back the Bush-era tax cuts on those with incomes above $300,000 or so.

Pelosi summed up the strategy quite nicely. She said she will “drain the swamp” of corruption in Washington. Not liberal? Too liberal? No, it is simply right for America.

It is the Republicans who have changed, and the rightwing lunatics who have taken over the Republican Party labored within the media to redefine what a Democrat is. Now, when our Democrats don't seem to match the caricature that these fanatics painted of us, somehow the Democrats we elected aren't Democratic enough. Nonsense.

Others talk about how the Democrats must be careful, or two years from now they will lose everything. Sure, and that 100-hour agenda for the new House and Senate is productive and pro-citizen, proving that Democrats (as Bill Clinton keeps saying) are great at governing. But let's consider some other election facts.

Paul Krugman, in Friday's New York Times, pointed out that Democrats won 7 million more votes in Senate elections this year than Republicans; in the House, Democrats received 53 percent of the two-party vote (ignoring races where Republicans didn't even put up a candidate, which would have made the margin even greater), a margin twice as large as George Bush's "mandate" in 2004. The Democratic majority in the House is nearly as large as Republicans have ever had during their 12-year reign of terror. Our new Congress members must be productive, but not just to keep control of the House and Senate; they need to be productive because the United States cannot afford another two years of do-nothingism.

One final note. Five days before the election, David Brooks, The New York Times op-ed apologist for all that is Bush and Iraq, wrote a piece in which he quit the pro-Iraq side. That might be an exaggeration, but consider his words.

Brooks suddenly discovered that Iraq is, and has always been, ungovernable, a "make believe kingdom built on false pretenses." His source was a 1970 essay by Elie Kedourie that describes Iraq then (like now) in this manner: “The record of the kingdom of Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine.” Brooks himself says, “Disorder is endemic to Iraq. Today's crisis is not three years old. It's worse now, but the crisis is perpetual. This is a bomb of a nation.”

Oh, really? If I were to continue quoting from the article, I would have to pay copyright fees, because the entire article deserves to be read. But I have to ask: Why didn't Brooks, or the Bush Administration, read this essay four years ago? Why is it only in late 2006 that David Brooks, defender of Bush’s regime change in Iraq, has realized the problem of taking responsibility for a country like Iraq?

Joseph McDonagh chairs the Hamden Democratic Town Committee.

"Guest Column" is open to readers of all ages, residents, local and state legislators, town and school employees and nonprofit agencies. It's a place to voice opinions on virtually anything. Click here to speak your mind.


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