Local Coverage about events in the Town of Woodbridge, CT

Budgets in Context

Tuesday evening, Dr. Guy Stella, Superintendent of Beecher Road School presented the proposed Beecher Road School 2010-2011 budget at the third and final operating budget presentations before the Boards of Selectmen and Finance at Town Hall in Woodbridge.

Prior to his presentation was a brief presentation about the pool and the gym. The boards were informed that a capital expense should be expected in a few years to replace the hot water boiler for the pool and showers, and to re-grout the pool. For the coming year, a status quo budget is proposed. There were a few comments about the replacement of the drain and about people now using the pool. It was a very quick presentation.

The Woodbridge Board of Education presentation was the big presentation for the evening. Chair of the Woodbridge Board of Education, Sheila McCreven thanked the public for its support of public education, and noted the great turnout of supporters of the school at the presentation. She spoke about how the board is always looking for ways to save additional money, including looking at the strategic school profiles of various towns to see if new ideas can be gleaned.

With this, she turned the presentation over to Dr. Stella. Dr. Stella presented the budget in the context of the history of free compulsory education in Woodbridge. He started with a picture of the Old South School from 1866. He noted that it had burned down and there was a new South School built in 1877.

Skipping forward, he talked about the building of the Center School in 1929 and the end of the era of one room schoolhouses in Woodbridge. He traced the history of our school system through the life of Alice Farr and her brother George who attended the Center School. He highlighted the assessment categories on report cards back then; Obedient, Ambitious, Clean, and so on. He then noted Ray Cowles. Ray and Alice were high school sweethearts and went to Hill House High School in New Haven, before the days of Amity High School. The jobs they started their careers with were the jobs they ended their careers with and they lived their whole life in Woodbridge.

With this as a backdrop, Dr. Stella talked about how times have changed and how different the needs are in education for the twenty-first century. We are now part of a global community, connected via the Internet. Dr. Stella stated that we must “prepare children for their future, not for our past.”

With that, he addressed some of the issues of why looking at per pupil expenditures does not make a lot of sense. He looked at the per pupil expenditures for school districts that the State considers similar to our own and noted that while we are higher than some, we are not the highest. Yet here in Woodbridge, we have many residents with years of experience and advanced degrees and the town wants our teachers to also have years of experience and advanced degrees. Likewise, our town wants smaller class sizes so that each student can get the attention they need and deserve.

A key aspect of this includes literacy and helping students become lifelong readers and lifelong writers. This literacy needs to go beyond the traditional understandings of literacy and now include information literacy. He spoke about the importance of the science program and laboratory, something that not all schools have. He spoke about the importance of the math teachers. Currently, we have one math teacher per over three hundred students. Some of this is driven by new regulations, such as No Child Left Behind, and some of this is funded by Federal grants.

Dr. Stella spoke about the global aspects of twenty first century education. The school district seeks to promote not just an exploratory understanding of other languages, but proficiency. As a result, we have more language teachers than some other districts. We also have a sister school program and monthly Skype conference calls with schools half way around the world. This also comes in to play with character development, such as the current Hands Out To Haiti program where students at Beecher Road are helping raise funds and supplies for relief efforts. Another aspect of the educational experience at Beecher Road includes a focus on wellness and socio-emotional development.

Dr. Stella’s budget presentation and the context he presented it in answered many of the questions that members of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance had coming into the meeting. Over the coming months there will be continued efforts to refine the budget to make sure that the taxpayers of Woodbridge get the highest possible value for their tax dollars spent on the Beecher Road School.

Personal Postscript: As I write this, CT-N is broadcasting a tribute to the late Connecticut State Capitol Police Chief Michael Fallon. One speaker praised Chief Fallon saying, “He never stopped learning.” I imagine some teacher, principal, or superintendant in heaven is smiling at that tribute to Chief Fallon and the indirect tribute to the educator’s hard work. I hope that the administration, board, and teachers of Beecher Road, as well as the residents of Woodbridge will receive similar praise in years hence as graduates of Beecher Road School get praised for great community service fueled by a similar love of learning gained in our school district.

(Originally posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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This Week in Woodbridge

This week in Woodbridge starts off with a Human Services Commission meeting at 7 PM at The Center and a 7:30 PM Town Plan and Zoning Commission meeting at Central Meeting Room at Town Hall on Monday evening. There are no public hearings scheduled for the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, however, they are scheduled to discuss updates from the Economic Development Commission and the “Town Plan of Conservation and Development in particular as it relates to the Town’s acquisition of the properties n/f owned by the Woodbridge Country Club”

Tuesday at 6 PM will see the next in the Town Operating Budget Presentations. Scheduled to present is the Pool and Gym, Building Maintenance, The Center, Benefits, Debt Service , and Revenue. To end off the evening, the Woodbridge Board of Education will present their budgets. There are reports that both supporters and opponents of the proposed school board budget are planning to attend the meeting and a Facebook Events page is up for those on Facebook that will be attending in support of the school budget. It is worth noting that there isn’t a lot of room in the Town Hall meeting room, and many more may end up watching the proposal from home on WGATV.

Also on Tuesday, starting at 7:30 PM, the Commission on the Use of Publicly Owned Property will meet in the Senior Center Lounge. Wednesday the Police Commission will meet in the Training Room at the Police Department. Friday will be National Wear Red in Woodbridge Day, as proclaimed by the First Selectman Ed Sheehy on January 14th. It is part of a national campaign by the American Heart Association to raise awareness about heart disease amongst women.

Also at 6 PM at Beecher Road School is Second Grade Social Night. People interested in participating should contact Margaret Hamilton. Ending up the week, or starting the new week, depending on your perspective, the Tanglewood Marionettes will perform “Hansel and Gretel” at the Woodbridge Library at 2 PM on Sunday.

If you know of other important upcoming events in Woodbridge, please contact ‘editor at woodbridgecitizen.com’ to help spread the word.

(Originally published at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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Woodbridge Burglaries

In December, I was forwarded an email about two early morning residential burglaries in Woodbridge, CT. I followed up by asking the Woodbridge Police to send copies of their press releases to me. They declined the request, so I brought it up at the next Police Commission meeting. At the meeting, Woodbridge Police Chief Gene Marcucci informed the commission and me that they would start placing their press releases on the Woodbridge Police Department website.

I suggested that it might be easier and more timely if the press releases could be sent out via to the town email system to interested journalists and residents, and I still hope that they will consider that. Since that date, I have frequently checked the Woodbridge Police Department website. Over a month has gone by since the previous press release had been issued. However, today, I was pleased to find a press release dated January 27th.

The press release announced the arrest of James C. Hamilton, aged 30, of 68 Sylvan Avenue, New Haven, CT. The press release states that “Working with investigators from both the New Haven Police Dept. and the East Haven Police Dept., Woodbridge Police detectives were able to link Hamilton to these burglaries and were able to recover items stolen from both homes.”

A quick search of the CT Judicial Branch website lists two cases with a James Hamilton as a defendant. One appears to be from the Woodbridge Police Department arrest, listing eight felonies and two misdemeanors which occurred on December 17th. Another case with a James Hamilton listed as the defendant is from the East Haven Police, on December 18th, including possession of narcotics. Both cases will have their next day in court on Feb 3rd. The court website also shows thirteen convictions of a James Hamilton from 2001 to 2007.

It is good to know that the suspect in the burglaries is in custody, that items that had been stolen have been recovered. It is especially good to know that the Woodbridge Police Department is making information about the arrest available to any journalist or resident that is interested.

(Cross-posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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Woodbridge Operating Budget Presentations

You can tell a lot about a town and its values as well as gain new insights about the economy as a whole by attending town operating budget presentations. In Woodbridge, these presentations are spread over three nights. The first presentations took place Tuesday evening.

Sitting around the tables were members of the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance. There was a small table for the people presenting the budgets and seats for maybe a dozen spectators. Three cameras were set up to record and broadcast live the meeting.

As I entered, I was greeted by various members of the community; Police Chief Marcucci, Selectwoman Beth Heller, and WGATV coordinator Pua Ford. With the exception of people preparing to present, the spectators’ seats were empty. Finance Board Chairman Matthew Giglietti started off the meeting recognizing that we are in difficult economic times and the budget needs to be trimmed.

First up was Fire Chief Andrew Esposito. Woodbridge has a new firehouse. It was designed to be a ‘green’ building. During 2011, the warrantees will be up on some of the equipment bought for the building and the ongoing support costs for these items will increase. It is not clear yet exactly how energy efficient the new building is, and the oil budget is an estimate.

Chief Esposito noted that there are currently 53 active members of the department. This is resulting in the need for more funds for training, and that the State, because of its budget cutbacks no longer funds half of the training costs for local fire departments. The issue of decreased state funding and fewer grants available was an ongoing theme of the presentations.

There was also a discussion about the need for first aid supplies, something that has been lacking since Woodbridge ceased to have a local ambulance.

The next presentation was Police Chief Gene Marcucci. The largest proposed budget increase for the police department was to get a police dog. It was explained that a police dog would be useful for finding lost children, as was an issue just this past week, or for finding lost elderly people. It was noted that there are three Alzheimer care units in Woodbridge and many senior citizens.

The third presentation was from Pua Ford of WGATV. She discussed the professional development item which would allow funds for her to attend a national conference on public access television. She spoke about the issues she would hope to learn more about from the conference. There was a discussion about how many people watch WGATV programs on TV or check the programs out of the library. While there was no clear data available, there was anecdotal evidence that the programs are well received. In fact, during the meeting, I received a text message from one person in town who had just tuned in the meeting and later when I arrived home there was an email from another person who specifically tuned in to watch the meeting. I am glad to know that others were watching online, it made the spectator chairs at the meeting feel a little less empty.

Several smaller budget items were then discussed. As technology for the town was considered, Ann Rubin asked if there were possible savings by combining technology budgets of the town and the fire department. It is worth looking into, or perhaps even having a technology oversight committee for all town technology. There was a discussion about banking costs increasing for the town and whether more checks could be written online.

The Human Services budget presentation talked about the increased needs of people in the Town of Woodbridge during these difficult economic times and again raised the issue of the decreased availability of grants. Many great programs made available by Human Services were discussed as well as efforts to work with the Recreation Department and the Town Library.

The Building Department spoke about their budget and the fees that they take in. The idea of having a different fee structure for residential and commercial buildings was discussed and will be considered at a later time, although Selectwoman Beth Heller expressed concern about whether such a move might discourage economic development. For Town Planning and Zoning, there was a discussion about revising the rules about signs. Signs are the biggest issue that TPZ faces, and the rules are not particularly clear. Almost every sign on Amity Road is an exception of one sort or another.

Another sign of the difficult economic times was the discussions of the Tax Collector and Tax Assessor. Assessments are down, but people need to remember it is still going to cost the same amount to run the town. Woodbridge Tax Collector Pat Crisco spoke about tax payments coming in. There was an involved discussion about how the town tries to work with people that are delinquent on their property taxes so as to avoid having to place a lien on the property or send a house into foreclosure.

The Parks Department ended off the meeting with a discussion about equipment that needs to be replaced. This topic had also been brought up by Human Services and the Building Department. The Parks Department had been moved to this Tuesday so that there would be more time available next Tuesday to discuss the Woodbridge Board of Education budget.

It was interesting to note that during all of the discussions, there was no reference to comparing the cost per resident of various services to that of surrounding towns. Perhaps the closest to this was a comparison of building fee structures.

The next operating budget presentation will be on Thursday and hopefully many of the residents of Woodbridge will attend or watch the presentations on WGATV.

(Cross posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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Walking Through the Town Budget

Last week, the Connecticut Siting Council held hearings in Woodbridge about a request by AT&T to erect a cellphone tower at 1900 Litchfield Turnpike in Woodbridge. This evening will be the first operating budget presentation for the 2011 budget. I tend to write about many such events as news events somewhat disconnected from regular people’s real lives. I worry that this style of writing might end up dominating the Woodbridge Citizen. Discussions about budgets might easily get reduced to amounts spent or percentages changed in the budget. Yet decisions about where to place cellphone towers and about town budgets have real effects on real people’s lives.

On Saturday, my daughter Fiona and I went for a short hike on one of the Bishop West Trails. We started at the parking lot of the Thomas Darling House. Even before we got onto the trail, Fiona and I were talking about the town of Woodbridge. Fiona is a student in the multi-age group at Beecher Road School. This year, they’ve been studying blue birds. They’ve learned about how the habitat has changed over the past few centuries. The idea of seeing a house that was built around 1772 and learning more about her town over two hundred years ago was exciting to her and she said she would talk with her teachers to see if her class could come visit the Darling House some time.

We crossed the State Highway and through the Boy Scout’s Camp Whiting. The smell of campfires wafted across the trail and Fiona reminisced about eating marshmallows on camping trips. A little further along the trail, we found some large rock outcroppings that Fiona will ask her teachers about. We crossed a small stream and headed up the ridge. Through the trees, we could see the powerlines that had been run through town before we moved here. Somewhere nearby is where AT&T wants to place the cellphone tower.

As we approached the quarry, we met hikers on their way back. They passed on information about climbing through the tunnel to get into the quarry; a little bit of information we would have missed. It made the hike an even greater adventure and we passed the information on to other hikers we met on the return leg of our trip. I hope that the people of Woodbridge will find the Woodbridge Citizen a useful tool for passing on little tips like this.

How much money should the town spend on maintaining roads, on supporting conservation, both of natural beauty and of our history? How much money should be spent on human services and on education? Over the coming weeks, we will discuss these issues in great detail at various town meetings. Yet as I sit in cramped meeting rooms, I will keep the images of the hike in my memory.

What visions of Woodbridge will you bring to town meetings discussing our budget?

(Cross-posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

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