Frustration grows after contentious Fairfield meeting
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 BOE had done) were to be presented. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. The meeting, in my opinion, was a "Big Waste of Time."
As co-founder 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 RTM. WTP was started in 2009 and has more than 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 supporters to attend. To my knowledge none of the board meetings has been held on a weekend. (God forbid the public might actually show up!) I do my best 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 school board meeting on a recent Tuesday evening, you will certainly understand and not blame me if I never attend another meeting for the remainder of my days in Fairfield.
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 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 Pam Iacona, 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 at Ludlow Middle Schools 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 school board, 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, the superintendent, 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 was refused, he said that he was unaware that so many teachers were coming and the cost to use the auditorium was $500. Whether Mr. Mitola knew or not, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a meeting involving presentations on the results of an independent audit of the educational system and on student enrollment figures would be heavily attended both by teachers and the public.
I feel Mr. Mitola as chairman of the Board of Education 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, his last comment to me was that no one will tell him where to hold his meetings.
I would like to remind Mr. Mitola that they are not his meetings, but public meetings for the purpose of disseminating information. Needless to say, I left the meeting in disgust.
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.
Kate Daniello lives in Fairfield.