The Nutmeg Board of Education is in the thick of its budget deliberations, and the members are having trouble establishing priorities. Board members Red Cent
Continue Reading SEE YOU IN COURT! – February 2019

As the Nutmeg Board of Education prepares for new budget season, Board member Mal Content is worried about the budget discussions becoming antagonistic and personal. The last budget season had been brutal, but people were generally civil and respectful in their comments on the budget. However, the last year has been hard on civility in public discourse at the local, state and federal levels of government, and Mal was worried that during budget deliberations the Board will experience the rude behavior seen too often these days on the television news.

Mal would not have to wait long. Seymour Dollars, the venerable Chairperson of the Nutmeg Board of Finance, invited the Board of Education to a preliminary meeting to provide “guidance” to the Board during the budget process. Ms. Chairperson of the Board of Education saw little choice but to play ball and ask her colleagues on Board of Education to suck it up and attend the meeting.

When Seymour called the meeting to order a few days later, he grandly announced, “This is my meeting,” he intoned, “and the members of the Board of Education are here as my guests.” Though it was early in the meeting, veteran Board of Education member Bob Bombast lost his composure. “It is our meeting too, you old windbag,” Bob blurted out. Seymour glared and ruled Bob out of order, cautioning Bob that he would be ejected from the meeting if he kept it up.

“We have invited the Board of Education here to remind our spendthrift colleagues that money is still tight. We suggest that you follow the zero-based budget approach and ask for more money only if there is a compelling need for it. Got it?” The Board members didn’t want to dignify Seymour’s condescending suggestion with a response. However, as they walked out quietly, Seymour called after them, “Remember, we are waiting for your suggestions for efficiencies and collaboration!”

In the weeks that followed, the Board of Education struggled to come up with a low-increase budget, and at the public hearing on the Board budget, it was the public’s turn to get testy. Bruno, President of the Nutmeg Union of Teachers, was first up, and he was anything but deferential. “This budget is a sham, and you are all cowards,” he shouted. To the applause of his union coterie, he sat down. But the criticism continued unabated. The PTO President was in high dudgeon as well, accusing the Board members of being “traitors” to the cause of high quality education. With that, a group of parents stood up and started waiving signs and chanting, “Traitors, Traitors.”

Ms. Chairperson had never seen anything like it, and she banged and banged on her gavel to restore order. Eventually, the group quieted down, but whenever Ms. Chairperson tried to move on with the Board meeting, the claque from the PTO stood back up and started chanting again. Eventually, Ms. Chairperson gave up trying, and over the din she asked whether there was a motion to adjourn. Bob Bombast made the motion, which was quickly seconded and passed unanimously.

Did Ms. Chairperson have any alternative here?
Continue Reading SEE YOU IN COURT! – November 2018

The Nutmeg Board of Education finally has a budget for the 2018-2019 school year.  Difficult as the process was, however, the hard work for the Board of Education was now beginning.  Somehow, somewhere, the Nutmeg Board of Education must find savings in the amount of $2,000,000 in the budget reconciliation process.

Ms. Superintendent knows that the only way to find the necessary reductions will be to cut both programs and staff, but even she was daunted by the scope of the task.  By contrast, veteran Board member Bob Bombast is a font of ideas, good and bad, and he is not shy about sharing them.

“Let’s start with some furloughs for teachers,” Bob began grandly at the last meeting of the Board.  “We have six days in the calendar for professional development for whatever that is worth.  Who wouldn’t like some time off instead?”

Board members Penny Pincher and Red Cent nodded in agreement, but Mal Content was not convinced.  “Don’t we have to negotiate with the Nutmeg Union of Teachers about this?  I don’t know why they would just agree to take a pay cut.”

Bob was unfazed.  “NUTS will agree if it knows what is good for its members.  Besides, I am just warming up.  We will certainly have to cut staff and programs too.  World language in elementary school, for example, is a luxury we can longer afford.”

“Hold on, Bob,” Mal Content interrupted.  “We should have this discussion in executive session.  We don’t want teachers reading in the paper that the Board is considering the elimination of their positions.”

“For once, Mal, you make a good point,” Bob responded, and on Bob’s motion, the Board promptly convened in executive session to discuss “personnel matters.”  Once the Board was in executive session, Bob continued.  “We need to make some serious reductions, and world language is a great place to start.  With Google translation, we certainly don’t have to clutter our minds learning foreign languages.”

Penny Pincher chimed in.  “I agree with Bob, but I am concerned that getting rid of world language at the elementary school will not be nearly enough to close the $2,000,000 shortfall.  What else can we do?”

“Let’s get rid of art in the elementary school as well,” Bob responded.  “Elementary teachers can just take care of art instruction as well.”

“With all due respect, Bob, I am not sure that even eliminating world language and art instruction at the elementary level will be enough,” Ms. Superintendent said.

“Well, it’s a good start,” Bob responded.  “We will show our good faith to the Town fathers, and if despite our efforts we run out of money, we can just ask for a supplemental appropriation.  Who’s in?”

Other than Mal, who seems to oppose everything, the Board members agreed to go ahead with Bob’s plan.  The Nutmeg Board of Education reconvened into public session and announced that teachers would be furloughed for six days next year and that elementary art and world language will not be taught as separate subjects anymore, starting in September.

Problem solved?Continue Reading SEE YOU IN COURT! – June 2018

On January 11, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE 1, Docket No. 15-187, to address the level of benefit a school must confer on students to provide them with a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under the IDEA.  The Court’s ultimate ruling on the case could have provide some clarity as to what constitutes a FAPE, especially for students with severe disabilities.

In 1982, the Supreme Court stated that the IDEA required districts to provide students with special needs with “some educational benefit.”  Bd. of Educ. of Hendrick Hudson Cent. Sch. Dist., Westchester Cty. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982).  It stated that for students who participated in the regular education curriculum, this meant schools had to provide the student with a program that was “reasonably calculated to enable the child to achieve passing marks and advance from grade to grade.”  Id. at 204.  It did not articulate a similar test for determining when students who were not participating in the general education curriculum were receiving “some educational benefit.”

In Endrew F., the student petitioner argued that the Supreme Court should clarify that, for such students, “some benefit” meant more than a “barely de minimis educational benefit.”  He urged the Court to interpret the IDEA to require schools to provide programs for students not participating in the general education curriculum that were “reasonably calculated to provide substantially equal educational opportunities” and included “standards, that were the highest possible achievable by the student.”  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, however, that this was the standard the majority of the Court rejected in Rowley.  The petitioner responded that Congress had amended the IDEA twice since the Rowley decision, indicating an intent to require districts to provide students with “[e]qual educational opportunity.”
Continue Reading Oral Argument Presented in Supreme Court Case Addressing the Level of Educational Benefit that must be Provided under IDEA

On September 29, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear the case of Endrew F. ex rel. Joseph F. v. Douglas County School District RE 1, Docket No. 15-187  to decide the question “What is the level of educational benefit that school districts must confer on children with disabilities to provide them with the free appropriate public education guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.?” See Appellant’s Petition for Certiorari.  At issue is how courts have applied the well-known Rowley FAPE standard, announced by the Supreme Court in 1982, which provides that a school district must provide an individualized education program that allows a child with a disability to receive “educational benefit.” See Bd. of Educ. v. Rowley, 458 U.S. 176, 200 (1982).  The Rowley case expressly rejected a potential-maximizing FAPE standard. Id. at 198-99.  Since Rowley, lower courts subsequently have described the Rowley standard as ranging from requiring “some” or merely “more than trivial” benefit to requiring “meaningful” benefit.  Congress has amended what is now known as the IDEA several times since the Rowley case, most notably in 1986, 1990, 1997, and 2004, but Congress has never expressly provided a standard by which to analyze whether a child’s programming and services substantively provide the child with FAPE.
Continue Reading Supreme Court to Revisit Rowley IDEA FAPE Standard for First Time in Nearly 35 Years

On Wednesday, September 7, 2016, Hartford Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher ruled in the case of Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding v. Rell, x07 HHD 14-5037565-S, that the current Connecticut education system violates the state constitution.  This ruling is the latest in a case first filed on December 12, 2005.

In 2007, the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims and held that the Connecticut Constitution did not contain a right to “suitable educational opportunities.”  In 2010, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed that 2007 decision and remanded the case back to Superior Court for trial, although the Supreme Court was split and there was no majority opinion.Continue Reading Superior Court Judge Rules Connecticut Education System Unconstitutional

In times of tight budgets, many school districts have turned to agreements with businesses in order to find an alternative source for school funds. The
Continue Reading Commercial Agreements to Raise Additional Funds for School Districts May Not be Worth the Cost