Fairfield school officials rebuff Flatto on budget criticism
"I was displeased with his comments. I think they were inaccurate and unfair," he said.
If First Selectman Kenneth Flatto wants to have an "honest" debate about the education budget, Mitola is all for it, but added he's upset that "elected officials would make misrepresentations about the budget."
In unveiling his $264 million proposed budget for the next fiscal year, Flatto last week took issue with what he described as 19 new positions in the school district's spending plan and 3 percent raises for some administrators. He cut the school board's proposal from $148.5 million -- the amount requested by Superintendent of Schools David Title -- to $146.7 million.
"I think he's made some inaccurate statements with regard to the hiring of staff," Mitola said, "and I think it's unfortunate that he is basically attacking people who work in our school system."
Both Mitola and Vice Chairwoman Pam Iacono said the new jobs that Flatto referred to were previously covered by grants and stimulus funds that are no longer available.
Administrators, they said, have gone without a raise for two years. "Comparing educators to police officers and firefighters is an unfortunate thing to do," Mitola said.
During his press conference last week, Flatto said it is wrong that some of the school district's administrators are being paid more than either the police or fire chief.
"These individuals who he's complaining about have taken a zero increase and furlough days the last couple of years," Mitola said. "He seems to have forgotten that."
The school board requested a 4.9 percent funding increase, which Flatto cut to 3.75 percent in his recommendation to the Board of Finance. The town side of the budget would increase 4.43 percent.
"I don't see a lot of sacrifice in the town side," Mitola said. "His 4 percent increase is nearly identical."
The town side of the operating budget proposed for 2011-12 by Flatto would increase to $81.2 million from the current $77.8 million. Flatto said the bulk of the $3.4 million increase is in three areas: health insurance, paving and "small" salary increases expected when municipal employee contracts are negotiated.
The town's contributions to retiree benefits will rise 33.52 percent from $8.3 million to $11 million, in part because of the necessity to fund Other Post Employment Benefit trust funds for retirees' health insurance. Debt service increases 4.33 percent from the current level of $23.8 million to $24.9 million.
"Our budget has been at a 0.2 percent increase for two straight years," Mitola said. "You have to look at the history."
"I know that it is a tough economic time," Iacono said. "We completely get it. The increase is primarily contractual and there are some things that we need to do financially to maintain our program and these things cost money."
She said staffing is outlined in the board's budget and disputes Flatto's statement that there are 19 new jobs. She contended there are six new positions in the budget. "The others are due to the funding cliff," she said, a situation everyone was well aware would happen.
Flatto, however, contends that the school board added those positions with stimulus and grant funds knowing there was no guarantee those jobs would be able to continue.
"It's tough," Iacono said. "I don't see how Mr. Flatto gets to his $1.6 million cut."