Few seats, school board chairman's attitude frustrating
For two years, We the People of Fairfield has been after the town and the Board of Education to perform operational audits whose independent recommendations would streamline the system and reduce our ever-increasing yearly budgets. I was honestly looking forward to the meeting at which the results of the audit (that the Board of Education had done) were to be presented. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The meeting, in my opinion, was a "big waste of time."
As cofounder and current head of We the People of Fairfield, I am often asked why more members of my organization do not attend the public meetings held by the boards of Education, Finance and Selectmen and the Representative Town Meeting. WTP was started in 2008 and has over 3,000 supporters. Approximately 60 percent of our supporters are middle-income people who work locally, 25 percent work in New York City and the remaining 15 percent are seniors. Fairfielders who commute start their day at 6 a.m. and many do not get home until 8 p.m. -- too late and too tired to go to a town meeting no matter what the issue is. The seniors as a rule do not attend late-night meetings. Thus, the many meetings, particularly around budget time, are impossible for approximately 40 percent of my supporters to attend. To my knowledge, only the Board of Finance has held a Saturday meeting during budget season to address the concerns of residents who cannot make meetings during the week. I hope other boards will consider doing the same. I try to attend as many as I can; in order to keep WTP supporters properly informed.
But that is not the primary reason why Fairfielders do not attend board meetings open to the public. As I describe my experience, at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday evening, Dec. 14, you will certainly understand and not blame me for never wanting to attend another meeting. After a hectic day, I rushed home to get dinner on the table for my family so that I could get to the 7:30 p.m. meeting. I arrived at the palatial headquarters of the Board of Education on Kings Highway at 7:45 p.m. (admittedly 15 minutes late). The meeting was standing-room-only and there was a line out the doorway. As I strained to hear the audit presentation by Tatia Prieta, an auditor from the firm, Prismatic Inc., I noticed that a number of the attendees were teachers. I asked a teacher standing in the hallway with me, why, and he told me that 160 teachers indicated that they would be in attendance and requested that the meeting be held in Ludlowe middle school's auditorium, but, the request was refused. Now I'm upset.
As I moved up slowly in line and finally got into the room (as people vacated) I asked John Mitola, chairman of the Board of Education, if he could speak closer to the microphone so that others standing in the hallway could hear him. At the break, I went up to Dr. Title to explain how upset I was that the room was too small to accommodate everyone who came. He accepted my comments and I moved on to state the same complaint to John Mitola. His unapologetic, often arrogant response floored me. Mr. Mitola said that I should have gotten to the meeting earlier if I wanted a seat! When I asked why, if they knew 160 teachers were coming, the request for a change in venue to Ludlowe's auditorium was refused; he said that he was unaware that so many teachers were coming and the cost to use the auditorium was $500. Mr. Mitola was also unaware that so many people were standing out in the hallway. The room we were in holds 250 people max.
In my opinion, it wouldn't take a rocket scientist to realize that a meeting where two important presentations (the results of an independent audit and projected enrollment figures) were being given would be heavily attended both by teachers and the public. I feel Mr. Mitola seriously blundered in determining not to use the auditorium for this meeting, and as a taxpayer, I sincerely hope it never happens again. Feeling very frustrated, I admit that my tone with Mr. Mitola could have been better, however, WTP would like to suggest that someone be appointed at future meetings to make sure that those in the hallway are invited into the room (if capacity allows) and that everyone be given the handouts even if they are late.
As for my commitment to WTP, we were informed at the meeting that the entire independent audit report (260 pages) will be posted online. I intend to read it and report back to WTP supporters. If you would like to know our findings with respect to the audit, please contact me at WTPFairfield@gmail.com.
We the People of Fairfield