Picture a summer in the early 1980s. The Board of Education's central administration is located at Island Avenue School and filling one of its offices are cartons of instruction books and software all meant to operate the school system's first computer for its business office. Sitting in the middle of the room, facing the computer and with dozens of instruction books spread out before her, Dotty Bavin is slowly but surely setting up this new accounting system "to make sure it goes."
"It was something new. You either embraced it, or you ran in the other direction. I embraced it," she says.
It is an accurate example of how Bavin has welcomed-and excelled in mastering-every problem, every crossroad, and every position she has held within the school system and the town administration over the past 33 years.
At the end of this month, Bavin, director of finance for both the town and the school system, will retire.
Hired in September 1979 as a payroll clerk for the schools at $3.26 an hour, Bavin had what she describes as the ideal job.
"I worked 180 days and had my summers off." She recalls, "This was long before computers. We used giant bookkeeping machines, until ours broke. It was broken for six or eight months because parts were so difficult to find."
A trip with the superintendent into New Haven in a final effort to find a replacement part proved unsuccessful.
"It became a giant typewriter. It performed no calculations," she says. "It was useless."
Eventually, the computer came, from a company in Kentucky. No instructor accompanied it, just cartons of instruction books. She spent her summer mastering computer programming and operation and data input and "eventually I worked through the process." She succeeded and discovered she loved doing so.
Madison's elementary school population was growing and Island Avenue opened once again as a school. The administrative offices moved to the basement of Academy School.
"It was a turning point," she recalls.
She took on more responsibility with payroll, financial reporting, and grants.
"It was the best place in the world to work," Bavin insists. "Bob Wolfe was the principal and he loved kids. We were a part of their fun. There were Halloween parades and days when we dressed like Smurfs. One year we built a playground with the parents. Another year a real circus came to the school grounds. And I was working with wonderful people."
She moved forward to become business assistant for the school system, developing a budget and taking on a management role she hadn't done before. Just before she moved upward yet again to the position of business manager, she asked then-assistant superintendent Vin Mustaro, "Can I do this?"
He assured her that she could.
The Board of Education offices moved in 1996 to the Town Campus. Kaye Griffin was superintendent of schools. Tom Rylander was first selectman. In 1997 the town decided to combine the school and the town financial operations.
"We were all told our jobs no longer existed as they had in the past," she says. "We all had to submit résumés and go through an interview process."
It was a tense, difficult time. When the process was over, Bavin was the new director of finance for the combined operation.
"It took a bit of adjustment," she admits. "Take an office that is established and suddenly a new group moves in to share the space and the jobs. It was a challenge for everyone."
Eventually the merged department succeeded in merging their separate accounting system, putting the entire financial operations on the same platform. "
It took time working together as a team. This department has the most amazing people to work with," she says.
And across her 33 years, Bavin has worked with many superintendents, assistant superintendents, first selectmen, Board of Finance members, and town employees. All will agree that Bavin is equally amazing.
During the arduous months of budget preparation for a new fiscal year, it is Bavin who sits hour after hour and night after night in front of her computer listening to debates among board members, factoring in new numbers, and providing scenarios as requested. It is Bavin who answers questions, remembers figures or actions taken last year or the year before, explains patiently and repeatedly why a specific request is handled in a specific way. In her unassuming way, year after years, she has educated new members of the boards of Finance and Education, new selectmen and first selectmen, new superintendents, and new reporters.
At a retirement reception last week, the Board of Education honored Bavin. Remarks contributed by Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anita Rutlin, and Bavin's sister, Ruth Rose, confirm what most already know: "There is only one Dorothy," known as Dotty, and she is following along on her yellow brick road.
We also learn, "Dotty has an affinity for fine footwear, handbags, and jewelry." And her friends insisted that, along with Monty, her husband of 49 years, "Click your ruby slippers Dotty, and repeat, 'There's no time like retirement. There's no time like retirement."