Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Recently, controversy has erupted over the role of The School Building Committee and the foul stench of its politics have rolled through the hallways of both City Hall and the Board of Education.
The latest development in this controversy stems from an accusatory press release against Mayor Stewart sent by two new Democratic members (Anderson and Osborn) of the Common Council, as reported in the New Britain Herald yesterday, claiming that the Mayor was attempting to illegally hire a project manager for the Chamberlain School project. Unfortunately for the Herald and the Council members, both seem to be missing, overlooking, or under reporting the facts.
To understand the current happenings, the New Britain Journal will provide you, the reader, some background:
On June 1, 2019 The Mayor and members of the City Council went to take a firsthand look at the condition of the school.
Later that June, the City Council approved an initial bond for the renovation of Chamberlain Elementary school, at the request of the school district which said that the building was in dire need of repair.
Once the city approved the initial $53 million bond, the paperwork was submitted to the State of Connecticut to request that the project be reimbursed underneath the school construction grant program, the same program that the city utilized to get partially reimbursed for work done on Diloreto , Gaffney, and Smalley elementary schools.
So, how does it work? The City has to front all of the money, and upon completion of the project they are reimbursed for a percentage of eligible expenses, often times this can amount to over 80% of the projects. In turn, the city pays off the debt more quickly, and alleviating that burden on the taxpayers, however the taxpayers do still have to front all of the money.
What is The School Building Committee?
This is an appointed board of individuals by the Mayor, as a citizen oversight board. There are seven members of this committee, many of which who have been members for the last 15 years.
The City’s ordinance says the role of the school building committee is as follows “This committee shall engage and fix the salary of one or more construction representatives who shall be responsible to the school building committee” (Sec 2-313)
The Board of Education: this is an elected board of individuals, charged with overseeing the Consolidated School District of New Britain and the public education of students in New Britain. In the City’s Charter the role of the Board of Education is as follows: “There shall be a Board of Eduation of said City consisting of ten members, with all the rights, duties, or powers concerning schools and educational matters vested in Boards of Education by the General Statutes.” (Sec 6-6)
The school building committee members are unpaid, City residents, who volunteer their time.
Here is where the controversy starts.
As in all things political, it’s a question of power – both the Board of Education and the School Building Committee are claiming that they hold authority over the appointment process of the position of Project Manager. (Power struggles seem to be a staple of Superintendent Sarra’s tenure.)
On August 19, 2020, the School Building Committee moved to hire Ray Moore as the Project Manager of the Chamberlain School Project citing his twenty plus years of experience, his ability to bring projects in on time and under budget, and their level of comfort with him. Moore was responsible for the recent building projects of Gaffney and Smalley Elementary Schools.
On September 30, 2020, Corporation Council, Gennaro Bizzarro, issued an opinion to Francis Wolski (Chairwoman of the school building committee and former president of the board of education) that the Board of Education has no authority over the hiring process and that any and all hiring authority granted by ordinance rests in the School Building Committee.
The Board of Education fired back at their meeting on October 5, 2020 and declined to approve Moore’s contract. The Board of Education is arguing that Moore is not needed, as they have hired a new six figure salary employee tasked with this oversight in addition to his other duties, despite him not having any experience in building New Britain Schools.
Subsequently, following the opinion from Bizzarro, the Consolidated School District of New Britain hired an attorney who then issued a cease and desist letter to the School Building Committee to prevent the hire of Moore.
Corporation Counsel responded on October 20, 2020 reaffirming his opinion and inviting the Board of Education’s attorney to “reconsider (their) legal conclusions” pertaining to the City rdinances regarding the school building committee.
Here’s Our take:
1. The Mayor’s Office plays no role in the hiring process of a “Project Manager” for new school building/construction projects. The press release sent by Democratic Council members yesterday was ill-advised and politically motivated.
2. Alderman Osborn, while entitled to his opinion, should be particularly embarrassed of this attempt of a political attack. Osborn has had an abysmal attendance record at Council and Committee meetings; for him to throw stones is comical in our opinion, it reeks of desperation and flailing political relevance. Decisions are made by those that show up and make an effort to lead.
3. The City Ordinance clearly spells out that The School Building Committee is the sole governing body who oversees the day-to-day operations of these school construction projects, they approve all purchase orders, and ensure that our money is being spent appropriately with qualified consultants. It is at their recommendation that contracts are sent to the city Council and the board of education for the hiring of the architect, engineer in firm, and builders on the project.
The NB Journal has FOI’d both legal opinions and will share with you upon receipt.
Something tells us there is much more to the story, don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of it.