Notes and photos submitted by Ed Munster, 12/6/18
This meeting, or at least the public portions, of the RSD#17 joint meeting with the Boards of Finance and the Boards of Selectmen of our two towns of Haddam and Killingworth was all about the Save H.E.S. movement. This meeting started at 5:30 p.m. on December 4 and adjourned at 7:00 p.m. This meeting was followed by a RSD #17 regular meeting which was anything but regular.
The evening started with elementary aged students chanting in the parking lot “Save H.E.S., Save our School.” Two television stations, Channel 61 WTIC and Channel 3 WFSB, were present to capture the event. It was also video recorded by Haddam News, who will make it available on Channel 19, the public access channel. There were about 30-40 children outside along with parents who came into the building for the meeting. The kids were well-behaved and remained in the back of the room along with their parents who kept order.
This joint meeting, usually held in the spring, was intended to have the towns’ elected officials and RSD #17 discuss their concerns about the upcoming budget process and give guidance to one another. Because there are new players in the Governor’s office and in the State Legislature and the reality that the state’s fiscal situation seems as dire as ever, budgeting for both the towns and RSD #17 could be more difficult even than last year.
The joint meeting quickly devolved into a discussion of the impact of the closure of H.E.S. After some initial comments by BOE Chair Joanne Nesti, she asked others around the table to comment. The first to respond was Haddam Selectperson Melissa Schlag who among other things read a prepared statement which intimated that the details of information about the closure of HES were not being disclosed by Haddam’s First Selectman; she urged that the towns and the RSD consider sharing of service such as garbage disposal and sweeping of parking lots be considered and criticized a comment by Suzanne Sacks, Killingworth member of the BOE regarding the population study done by Wesleyan students.
Nesti stated that all the information given to the First Selectmen of both towns was on the BOE website and that no one was withholding information from Schlag. First Selectman Cathy Iino of Killingworth pointed out that the towns are already sharing services. Suzanne Sacks explained the study by the Wesleyan students and then went on to discuss other mis-statements that have been circulating in the social media, such as that the BOE has reduced its estimate of $1 million savings to $700,000 and even down to zero. The BOE stands by its estimate of $1 million in savings, though there are increases in salaries and benefits which will need to be paid. The projected savings will cover those increases among other things. This opened the discussion of the RSD redistricting from five campuses to four.
The potential negative impact of the closure of HES on the economic future of the Town of Haddam was the focus of comments by First Selectman Lizz Milardo, Selectman Larry Maggi and Haddam BOF member Harlan Frederickson. Sacks and Nesti asked the towns whether they would be willing to forgo the savings associated with the closure of HES. Haddam town officials seemed to say that this would be better than having the center of Higganum become a dead zone. Killingworth officials did not comment in that discussion.
The joint meeting went on from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. Upon the adjournment of that meeting, Chairman Nesti immediately opened the regular meeting of the BOE and quickly went into a public comment period. The members of the audience who were anxious to have a chance to speak were asked to sign up to establish an order of speakers. The first speaker Mark Fong, a teacher from Middletown who lives in Higganum, pointed out that his experience is that families from Middletown are moving to Haddam because of the reputation of the great school system, that increasing class size and closing HES would diminish our school system. Fong said he moved here because of the school system and did not care about what the mil rate is.
Before the next speaker began, BOE Chair Nesti reminded everyone that the public comment portion of the meeting is for the public to provide input to the Board and that the board would not be responding to the public comments. Others went on to say that people would leave our town, education quality would diminish and home prices will decrease if HES is closed. Maurice Adams of Haddam pointed out that over the years the school population has decreased by 21% while the education budget has been consistently increasing and that we the taxpayers have been saying “Cut Taxes.” He said the BOE has responded to the taxpayers, but he also asked the audience to keep their enthusiasm up and keep their organization intact.
Another speaker was Higganum resident Pamela Crum who “fervently opposed” the closure of HES and called for a “stay of execution” until many of the taxpayers questions can be answered.
After about eight speakers the time for public comment had run out and the BOE went into executive session which lasted about an hour after which the regular meeting resumed to complete some other business before moving into the final period of public comment of about 20 minutes. Kate Anderson who is among other things chair of Haddam’s Economic Development Committee pointed out that she was not speaking on behalf of the EDC but her comments were her own. Her concern was that there needs to be a plan for Higganum center and Haddam cannot afford another vacant building in town. At the end of this public comment period which included another eight speakers, the meeting was drawn to a close at just past 9:00 p.m.
Link to video on VSCTV: http://www.esenetworks.com/player.aspx?id=51988&content-id=203434