As published in the Record Journal on Sunday February 24, 2013
By Andrew Ragali
WALLINGFORD - Town employees told to take vacation time for the day Town Hall was closed during the blizzard are wondering why school system employees weren’t treated the same.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. issued a memo Feb. 14 telling employees that if they did not go to work on Feb. 11, when Town Hall was shut because of the storm, they must take a vacation day to get paid. Interviews with several town employees showed that while they’re upset with the mayor and his decision, they’re also angry that employees of the school system will get paid for the three days they were told not to show up to work.
The issue is “something that came up in conversations,” said Chuck Ballard, president of Local 1183 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing public works, clerical and sewer workers. “If the mayor is going to come up with a memo, it should be issued across the board.”
School Superintendent Sal Menzo acknowledged earlier this week that the discrepancies between town and school district employees are “difficult for people to understand.”
“We work under separate labor contracts,” Menzo said.
Much of Menzo’s decision making in regard to school cancellation and employee compensation are based on past practice, which “often times dictates how myself and the administration are required to handle a circumstance,” he said. Dickinson said state law gives control to the Board of Education.
“We do not have any authority over the Board of Education,” Dickinson said.
Last week, Dickinson said, “I have a hard time feeling the town should be paying people when they didn’t work.”
Had Town Hall been open on Feb. 11, employees still would not have been able to work, because the parking lot and roads still hadn’t been plowed completely.
“I don’t want to feel like we are giving money away when it isn’t warranted,” he said.
Dickinson said the school district often closes several times a year because of inclement weather, so Menzo already has a procedure in place. Usually, Town Hall does not close, Dickinson said, so there isn’t any regular procedure.
Dickinson said he does understand why town employees are upset that school employees aren’t being treated the same. The money that funds the general government and the school district come from the same local taxes, creating a situation in which there are two separate entities being held accountable for taxpayers’ money.
“It creates jealousies,” Dickinson said. “There would have to be a change in state law to put everyone on the same footing.”
Personnel Director Terence Sullivan said “it would be nice to follow all the same rules” in order to avoid jealousies between town and school employees.
The solution, said Dickinson, would be to make school districts responsible for raising their own money through taxes. In the past, local legislators have proposed creating a separate Board of Education tax in the state, Dickinson said. He said the practice is employed successfully in Pennsylvania and New York.
With two taxes, “if you’re not satisfied with something on either side, you know who to call,” Dickinson said.
While Dickinson believes creating a separate Board of Education tax would relieve what he calls an “awkward” situation, he does not see a change of state policy on the horizon.