by Greg Canuel  12/15/2010 12:05 a.m. Link to Original Article

Fairfield’s Board of Education did things backward compared with its students. It got its grades, and now it has to do its homework. Tatia Prieto of independent experts Prismatic Services presented results of the school district’s operational audit Tuesday night.

The 260-page report outlines what the district does right and what it needs to do to become more efficient and save taxpayer money. Prismatic recommended an overhaul of the Central Office’s organization and the district’s technology systems, as well as minor tweaks to the financing, staff, facilities, transportation and food service departments.

“What we need to do now is make a plan together,” said Superintendent David Title.

Prieto and four other auditors spent the last three months touring Fairfield schools; interviewing staff, teachers and parents; and analyzing educational studies. They also compared Fairfield with five peer districts: Greenwich, Norwalk, Stamford, Trumbull and West Hartford. They came up with 25 “commendations,” or positive programs in the district. But they also offered 74 recommendations for changes the board could make.

“That’s a pretty typical ratio of commendations to recommendations,” Prieto said. Specifically, the audit suggests streamlining the district’s administration, making it clearer who reports to whom. It also suggested switching the high schools to a principal system instead of separate houses, which would cut highly paid staff and make discipline more efficient.

Prieto also told the board that it should make a plan and stick to it for technology, both in buying new technology and cutting out paperwork by adopting more computer databases.

In most other areas, Prieto said Fairfield’s schools are doing well. Prismatic commended the district’s high-quality teachers and staff, its well-maintained facilities, its healthy cafeteria food and its generally short ride times on buses.

They recommended some cost-saving measures, such as putting schools on a “tiered” schedule, allowing the same buses to cover multiple routes. They also suggested raising lunch prices.

The district posted the report publicly on its website. Neither the Board of Education nor Title saw the results before Tuesday’s meeting, so all agreed to discuss them at committee meetings over the next few months.

“I think this is a lot of information for us to digest,” said board member Stacey Zahn.