BOE Members Say Chairman Overstepped Authority on School Bus Talks

Board of Education members say the results of the talks were OK, but the process through which they took place could have violated state law and board procedures.

Several Newtown Board of Education members criticized Chairman Debbie Leidlein Tuesday for what they described as disregarding board procedures and state law when she held several ad hoc meetings with the school bus company to iron out schedule and route problems.

The board members’ complaints weren’t about the result of the meetings, which helped iron out problems getting students to school.

Some routes for middle school students are still too long, and at least one parent complained about it at the board’s meeting Tuesday, but School Supt. Dr. Janet Robinson said most of the problems that generated many complaints at the beginning of the school year have abated since the bus company, All-Star Transportation, added some extra buses.

The problem is, according to board members, Leidlein did not have the authority to hold meetings with the bus company or to give the company the OK to add the buses. BOE members Richard Gaines and William Hart advised her that it not only violated school board procedures, but also the state Freedom of Information Act, which requires that meetings be given proper public notice.

Leidlein said school board members Laura Roche and John Vouros also sat in at her talks with the bus company, but at Tuesday's meeting she offered no other explanation for allegedly overstepping her authority. Hart noted that violating the FOI Act could result in legal trouble for the board.

Hart said he was also unhappy that Leidlein gave the company permission to add buses. Roche said the company’s contract calls for 42 school buses and it was not running that many, but Hart replied that the contract had unit pricing, which means the decision had budget implications that should have gone before the whole Board of Education at a public meeting.

Earlier, during the public participation portion of the meeting, parent Desiree Galassi of Huntingtown Road said she still wasn’t satisfied with her children’s school bus schedule.

Her two high school-age sons and her middle school-age daughter must leave the house earlier than in previous years, yet still get to school later, sometimes missing home room.

“I don’t think it’s a question of All-Star. I think it’s a question of the budget,” Galassi said.

The bus schedule problems started after the company responded to school board budget concerns by cutting the number of buses for Tier 2 of the schedule, the buses serving Reed School and St. Rose School.

Robinson said Tier 1 serves the high school and middle school, which have a combined enrollment of 2,600 students. Tier 2, on the other hand, has only about 1,200.

Although most of Newtown school bus routes still averaged about 45 minutes, some of the Tier 2 routes stretched to well over an hour, prompting noisy complaints from parents at the board’s regular meeting in September.

Another LongTimeResident November 27, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Kudos to Ms. Leidlein for sticking up for Newtown and getting the discussion going when the administration refused to. Shame on Bill Hart.... perhaps if he showed up to a meeting or two, he would know the facts. He could be helpful but instead decides to distract the board with unsubstantiated claims.
Kevin Fitzgerald November 27, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Another long time resident...because you don't want us to know who you are, I assume from your comment that you do not know Bill Hart or his outstanding track record on this and the previous BOE. In addition, little else in your comment is accurate.
Sam Mihailoff November 27, 2012 at 01:07 PM
you do not know Bill Hart or his outstanding track record on this and the previous BOE. WOW, simply amazing!!!
Newtownpatchreader November 27, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Bruce, You'll have to excuse me if I don't use your perspective  as a benchmark for rudeness. If memory serves and looking back into archives, it appears that Kathy did try to avoid a formal FOI. However, the BOE at that time went in a different direction. There is a huge difference, in my opinion, of impugning someone's character and trying to silence an elected official in this country, compared to questioning wether or not a board followed its policies or FOI laws. If in fact the current BOE did just that, then that is a mistake that should be corrected and remedied going forward. Let's see what happens as I'm sure the story will unfold and we will know what rule was or was not broken. It's clear that the previous example played out in favor of the complainant.  I maintain you will use any opportunity to bring attention to an elected official, especially if it's a republican and regardless of wether your accurate or not, only to degrade. One need only search the Patchs archive of your comments to make a determination. 
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com November 27, 2012 at 07:03 PM
There you go again, making derogatory comments while hiding your identity. I may make mistakes, and even go a bit overboard with passion, but at least I have the courage to do it in the open in my own name.


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