The Meriden Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to sign a letter of agreement with the Meriden Federation of Teachers for a furlough day on October 7, 2011. Board of Education President Mark Hughes said, “I want to thank the teachers for coming forward with this. This is the equivalent of the teachers giving us approximately a quarter of a million dollars.”
The agreement states that the furlough day is being taken based on the “mutual belief concerning imminent cuts to public education and the interest to save teachers’ jobs and reinvest the money into class size reductions.”
Changing the Academic Tracking System
In other action, the board voted to implement the next phase in the school district’s plan to reorganize its academic levels. The plan, developed in conjunction with the State Department of Education, calls for reducing the number of levels or “tracks” from three to two in the middle schools and from four to two in the high schools.
According to research on which the plan was based, tracking tends to benefit those in the top levels and harm those at the lowest levels by leading to low teacher expectations of those students, reducing their opportunities and perpetuating inequities along race and socioeconomic lines.
The process of collapsing the levels was implemented at grades 6, 7 and 9 this year. The board voted to implement the next phase, for grades 8 and 10, in the 2011–12 school year.
“To me, it’s looking like it’s too much, too soon at the middle-school level,” said board member Kevin Scarpati, referring to a rise in the number of failing marks in some of the grade levels that implemented the new system this year.
School Superintendent Dr. Mark Benigni pointed out that, as part of the plan, “all students are taking more rigorous courses now.”
Added board member John Lineen, “We are challenging students to perform at a higher level. The first year shows that it isn’t easy.”
Michael Cardona, Vice President of the Meriden Board of Education, also expressed apprehension that planned cuts in teaching positions might result in the plan going forward without adequate student supports in place. But Benigni reassured the board, “We really tried to maintain the positions needed to support this effort.”
Board Secretary Robert Kosienski said that, despite his concerns about the number of failing grades among freshmen at both high schools, “I have a lot of faith in our staff and in you, Dr. Benigni, so I will vote to support the plan.”
Family Sick Time Pilot
The school board also voted to implement a one-year Employee Family Sick Day Pilot Program. The program, which begins on July 1, 2011, allows employees of the Meriden Board of Education to use up to three of their accrued sick days for family illness. During several past contract negotiations, unions have asked for such a policy, but concern was raised that it would lead to misuse of sick time. The new sick leave policy will be evaluated at the end of the pilot period on June 30, 2012, to determine whether it should be made permanent.
School District Profile Shows Greater Need/Less Money
In one more order of business, the board reviewed a profile of the Meriden School District prepared by the State Department of Education based on data from the 2009–10 school year. Highlights revealed that Meriden has a much higher percentage of students in poverty than the statewide average. More than 62% of students in the district qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, compared with the state average of less than 32%. At the same time, while needs are greater, Meriden has about $1,300 less to spend per pupil than the statewide average.