Fairfield Board of Education votes to approve $188 million budget

The location of the Fairfield Board of Education at 501 Kings Highway East.

The location of the Fairfield Board of Education at 501 Kings Highway East.

File photo

FAIRFIELD — The Board of Education passed a 2020-21 budget totaling more than $188 million, a $7.7 million increase from the year before.

More than half of the proposed 3.9 percent increase comes from employee benefits and salaries.

The budget cut $683,919 from spending for tuition, supplies and materials and capital expenses, and officials said they expect to save money by sharing some services with the municipal government.

Superintendent Mike Cummings has described the proposal as a maintenance budget.

The new budget restructures central office and adds a new position, director of operations and processes. That job was designed to find further efficiencies and eliminate duplicate services, Cummings said.

While the board voted unanimously to approve the spending plan, there were a few last minute amendments that members tried to push through without success, including a motion by Bonnie Rotelli to eliminate the math academy, a program in its first year.

The math academy is a program for fourth- and fifth-grade gifted students taught separately from their peers. There are currently 13 students in the pilot class, although it is budgeted for 25.

Rotelli made a motion to move funding from the math academy line item to the maintenance budget.

Those students now in the program would finish the program, but a new fourth-grade class would not start next year, as was the plan, if the budget line was eliminated.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, a number of parents asked the board to continue math academy funding although some spoke against it.

Rotelli said the hands-on and student-directed style of the class should be the model of teaching for all students, not “an all-day secluded program.”

There were also concerns brought up by several board members about the gender equity of the program — approximately three quarters of the students in it are male.

Board member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly said while she agreed there are issues with the program, she could not support cutting the funding because it would result in the needs of those students not being served. She also said that it would be premature to make a decision when the program had not yet completed its allotted first run.

The motion did not pass.

The budget now goes to the Board of Selectman, Board of Finance, and Representative Town Meeting.