By Jaime Thomas
The Hartford School Board adopted its new budget Monday night — to the surprise of some members of the public.
As Brian Getty, president of the board, made a motion to pass the budget, Town Supervisor Dana Haff asked if there had been any workshops.
Members of the board said there had been three workshops, but they had not advertised all of them in the paper and on the school’s website.
“I’m very upset that the majority of the community has no idea what’s going on with the budget,” said Hartford resident Candace Combs on Tuesday. She said a group of citizens, including her, has been asking the board to put pertinent information on the school’s website for at least two years now.
When Combs spoke up on the subject during the meeting, the board told her they had announced the workshops in the December or January meeting; however, meeting minutes are not posted on the website until after the next month’s meeting.
District Clerk Marge Durling took the blame and said she had been negligent in her duties, but Getty does not think it was solely her fault.
“I feel bad that Marge took the heat for that. There was a lot going on in that office more than the average work day,” Getty said on Tuesday, referring to the recent transition from Thomas Abraham to Andrew Cook as superintendent. He said this was a trying time during which officials had to make difficult decisions.
He also said that people know that the budget process happens at the same time every year, so interested public should realize it’s time for the meetings.
“We truly do not try to be evasive — we’re all taxpayers and we all have strong ties to current or former students,” he said. “We all work as tax payers, and we try to work for the furthering of education.”
After the issued was raised, Getty offered to hold off on approving the budget for a month.
But Haff said nothing would be accomplished in doing so as the board had already formulated the budget.
Combs said it is upsetting that the majority of the community has no idea what is going on with the budget. Haff, though, is not overly disconcerted about the matter, because he said the school has one thing the town does not.
“The school has a public referendum or public voting on the budget in May, so it’s an added layer where the public has input,” he said. In other words, if the community does not like the budget, they can vote it down.
This year’s proposed budget is $10,548,823, which will translate to a 2.93 percent increase in the levy.
Combs said it has been a pattern in the past for Hartford officials to make information harder to find than other schools, but she is hopeful things will improve with the transition to Andrew Cook as superintendent.
“I can make sure they are posted going forward,” Cook said, and he said the board would also post draft minutes soon after meetings.
He said Abraham was not a “tech-savvy guy, but Mr. Cook is into that form of media so he will make that happen.”
“We’ve been trying to get things done, and we’re trying to become diligent with that,” Getty said.
Also during the meeting, Cook introduced the interim middle and high school principal, James Polensi, effective March 11 through June 30.
Polensi said he is in his 45th year in education and has worked in 14 school districts and held 10 interim positions since his retirement. He said he loves working with students and professional staff and said he was pleased with what he’s seen since he started at Hartford.
“This is a safe school with a dedicated staff, it takes pride in its work, and teacher and student contact is very impressive. It’s something precious,” he said.
Cook said the board has interviewed eight “very qualified” candidates for the position of principal and they will pick one of a selected two in April.