SOUTHINGTON - Several Board of Education members, local teachers and parents spoke at a public hearing on the proposed 2018-2019 budget last week, asking for more money to be spent on education. Others criticized school spending.
The meeting, which was held at DePaolo Middle School, began with John Leary, chairman of the Board of Finance, breaking down the budget proposal for the audience. The council will vote on the budget at their May 14 meeting.
The 2018-2019 budget totals $148,658,395 in spending, up from $143,396,270 last year. This translates to a 0.52 percent mill increase - or a 1.7 percent hike - in the tax rate. Leary said that someone owning a home worth $100,000 would spend $36 more in taxes while someone with a $300,000 home would spend $109 more.
“I feel that this is a responsible budget both for general government and the Board of Education,” said Leary.
The budget includes $40,600,331 for the general government budget, up from $39,997,507 last year. The Board of Education operating budget increased from $87,309,939 last year to $95,312,329 this year.
Following the presentation of the budget, Board of Education Chairman Brian Goralski and school board members Bob Brown and Terri Carmody asked that $1.59 million be restored to the Board of Education budget, bringing it back to what they originally proposed to the council.
“Our budget was already reduced by a half-million from the Superintendent’s proposal,” said Goralski. “We don’t expect to get back everything we originally asked for, but we would like to get back some. Otherwise, we will see more staff reductions. That is not a threat – that is a reality.”
The Board of Education also hit back against council members, who they did not name, who they said accused the Board of Education with being frivolous with its spending.
“I am disappointed and embarrassed by the misinformation coming from some members of the council,” said Brown. “The Board of Education has not spent money out of control. We have a detailed budget, which is a public document, and it was crafted by competent and honest people. We are all here to serve the public and provide the best education for our students.”
“We should work together to solve the problems of our community,” said Carmody.
Kevin Curtiss, chairman of the library board, later spoke in favor of the library budget. However, he encouraged the council to consider renovations in the future. The library, he said, is inefficient, too small and doesn’t meet accessibility standards.
He said that Cheshire has more library staff and a larger library budget. When Sue Smayda, library director, retires, he said the town will have to compete against them when looking for a new director.
Phil Pomposi, who served on the Board of Finance for 22 years, criticized the Board of Education and defended Councilor Mike Riccio who he said was attacked for suggesting hiring a consultant to look at the Board of Education budget. He suggested forming a bipartisan committee with two Board of Education members, two town councilors, two members of the Board of Finance and two “lay people” to examine the Board of Education budget and volunteered to serve on it.
Dan Hart, a history teacher, quoted the founding fathers on the importance of public education and argued that, while the town has a reputation for having a good school system, local schools have seen a “weak funding stream” in recent years. He said that the town “should be embarrassed” by this.
Another speaker, Alexandra, argued that unions had “unrivaled political power” and a monopoly over public education. She blamed them for the state’s education cost sharing cuts and said that while education costs had increased 375 percent since the 1970s, test scores have not been increasing dramatically as a result.
Patti Goldberg, a former paraprofessional at Derynoski school and the aunt of a 14-year-old boy killed in the Parkland Florida shooting, argued that more money should be put into the school budget to make schools safe.
“We need police officers in every single school and we need cameras,” she said. “I don’t want one more person to feel how I feel, knowing that my 14 year old nephew is no longer on this Earth.”
Sarah Hall brought her second-grade daughter Samantha with her to speak. She said that although she considered herself a fiscal conservative her daughter had been struggling with reading and greatly benefitted from literacy programs that she doesn’t want to see cut. Her daughter now enjoys reading and wants to go to the library, she said.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.