Board of Education working to create a budget it can support
Published 1:04 am, Friday, January 29, 2010
During a Board of Education (BOE) meeting Tuesday, Pam Iacono said she would like to see what the $144, 796,425 school budget proposed by the superintendent would look like with a one percent cut. Iacono, vice chairman of the board, hoped central office could subsequently provide a list of what might be potentially removed, but the majority of her board did not want to entertain that request.
"If we cut one percent, the town bodies will find somewhere to cut a little more," said BOE member John Mitola, who added, "To a certain extent people, this is a game that we all play."
"I don't think I'm saying anything that no one doesn't know," Mitola said.
Iacono, in an interview yesterday with the Fairfield Citizen, said she felt it was important to at least see what the budget might look like with a one percent cut.
"I'm disappointed that we can't do that," she said. "I wasn't necessarily asking for a one percent cut. I wanted to look at it and see what impact that had."
Iacono added, "This is the superintendent's budget and it's our job as representatives of the community and the school system to scrutinize this budget and to make sure it's a budget that we all can believe in."
She noted that if the board puts forth a budget it believes in and can advocate for, then that budget would be more likely to get passed by the other town bodies.
As for Mitola's statement that the budget process is sort of "a game that we all play," Iacono said, "This is not a game. This is public education. These dollars are used to teach kids. It's a game if you don't look at all of this and you pad things because you expect the town bodies to cut it."
BOE member Perry Liu also was not supportive of the one percent cut scenario. He said it is already a light budget.
"They [the other town bodies] will come along anyway and make cuts," he said.
While Iacono's one percent proposal was not supported, the board did embrace her request to add $50,000 to the budget for an operational audit. Also, the board concurred with BOE member Tim Kery's request to increase funding in the budget for enrollment projections from $5,000 to $20,000 -- a $15,000 increase. He indicated that the school system's current provider is adequate for one-year projections, but he is seeking greater accuracy in longer-term enrollment projections to guide future facilities planning.
One request that fell by the wayside was BOE member Stacey Zahn's desire to provide $202,000 to add three teachers to the staff reserve.
When the board agreed to $65,000 for the operational audit and the enrollment projections, it also asked Superintendent of Schools Ann Clark to find a way to cut $65,000 from other portions of the budget, so as not to increase the budget's percentage increase.
The superintendent's recommended 2010-11 budget represents a 3.75 percent increase over the current budget -- a figure that First Selectman Ken Flatto said last week is "somewhat problematic."
There were some questions Tuesday as to how necessary the request for 32 SmartBoards and projectors is. Coming in at a price tag of $146,855, Clark said the request is needed to achieve greater equity across the school district. She also said SmartBoards are used to improve and enhance student achievement and they bring a multitude of resources to a teacher's fingertips in a few seconds.
Kery asked if there is any evidence yet that the 161 SmartBoards in the district have increased student achievement. Clark said teachers are reporting that students are more engaged, but she added that no control studies have taken place to determine the impact.
Zahn wondered if the board will possibly be funding technology that will potentially become obsolete in a few years. Clark said that is not the case.
"In a way, it is like a large computer screen. They will last, as long as we don't move them around a lot," she said. Liu said he has seen the SmartBoards in use in the classroom and he himself is a fan.
"The kids get excited and engaged with them in a way that I think helps their education," he said.
The BOE also discusseed items that in the town's capital non-recurring budget, which falls outside of the school budget. It was noted that Dwight Elementary School, which is non-compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) -- including not having an elevator or chair-elevator for people to access the second level -- is among items in the non-recurring budget for $250,000 worth of work to make the bathrooms ADA-compliant. However, Iacono noted that a student confined to a wheelchair, who lives in the neighborhood, still couldn't go to school there if the bathroomwork was done.
"I'd rather see it all packaged and paid for at once," Iacono said.
Andrea Leonardi, director of special education and pupil services, strongly encouraged the board to make Dwight more accessible to handicap students than it currently is.
Other work slated for the capital non-recurring budget is $100,000 for security and safety work at Stratfield Elementary School; $200,000 to replace treads and risers in two-and-a-half stairwells at Tomlinson Middle School; $1.5 million worth of window replacement work at Fairfield Ludlowe High School; and $250,000 for boiler replacement at Fairfield Woods Middle School.
As for the school district's operating budget, Clark said much of the 3.75 percent increase is the result of increased staff (salaries and benefit packages) based on increased enrollment.
"The administration stands behind this budget," Clark said. "We believe it's fiscally prudent and we stand behind everything we asked for."