Fairfield school panel drops pay-to-play, sports cut plans
Updated 4:24 pm, Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Having heard the Board of Education and the public loud and clear last week, Superintendent of Schools David Title presented a revised list of budget adjustments for the 2011-2012 school year at Tuesday night's board meeting that drops his initial suggestion for "pay-to-play" fees at the high school level and eliminating freshman sports and boys and girls ice hockey.
The changes in spending for the new fiscal year are needed to reconcile the board's initial budget request with a $2 million cut to the education budget by the Boards of Selectmen and Finance and an additional $800,000 cut by the Representative Town Meeting. Those reductions result in an approved final budget of $145.2 million for 2011- 2012. The current education budget is $141.6 million.
The revised budget adjustments were approved by a 7-2 vote. While board members were generally pleased to see "pay-to-play" eliminated, several were still displeased foreign language instructional time remains cut in half in grades four through six.
Instead of the "pay-for-play, which would have netted the school district $250,000, Title's new list of budget adjustments include: raising preschool tuition for a gain of $20,000; cutting $20,000 from the maintenance services accounts; $30,000 less in new software; implementation of a high school parking fee of $50 per semester that would raise about $50,000 in revenue and net $40,000 after enforcement costs; two teacher retirements administratrators just learned about that will save $70,000; and in high school sports, all sub-varsity sports teams would play two fewer games (one home, one away), a savings of $35,000 per school.
Meanwhile, the lion's share the $2.8 million in budget adjustments came from, among other things: elimination of 1.3 certified staff at the district level ($104,018), the bulk of which was a district instructional improvement teacher at $88,758; minus the equivalent of 6.4 jobs at the high school level ($610,949); a reduction in world language program at the middle-school level and not filling a music teacher job ($147,507); elimination of the equivalent of 6.5 full-time jobs at the elementary level ($471,552), which also results in world language reductions in grades 4 and 5 at the elementary school level; minus 9 positions of non-certified staff at the high school ($364,933); elimination of one custodian at Fairfield Woods Middle School ($58,338); a reduction of 12.8 non-certified staff at the elementary level ($498,627); various salary reductions totaling $243,022; and non-personnel reductions totaling $478,000.
Stacey Zahn, one of the two board members to vote against the adjustments Tuesday, said after the vote, "I fully support Dr. Title. I just had a major struggle with the foreign language piece."
Perry Liu, another board member, told the Fairfield Citizen he also voted no because of the cut to foreign language instruction in three grades.
Board member Catherine Albin was not nearly as upset. "I'm a firm believer that we need to be teaching English skills first and foremost," she said.
Sue Brand and Liu, one after the other, made motions calling for budget adjustments that would not include trimming the world language program, but votes on their motions did not garner adequate support.
Brand had proposed elimination of "extra clerical" help at nine elementary schools ($3,718); elimination of lunch aides at seven schools (a potential savings of $31,450); elimination of three middle school liaisons ($132,373); as well as $197,500 in maintenance cuts. Liu suggested using $342,000 set aside for busing-related costs to carry out a future redistricting plan. Before a vote on his motion took place, he wondered if the "grandfathering" option -- allowing students to continue a school no longer within their home district -- could be offered, but with a stipulation that parents bring their children to school.
"I think this would be chaos," said Title, adding that suggestion would create a scenario with 200 parents trying to drive their children to Tomlinson Middle School, which they attend under the grandfathering option.
"I think they'd be backed up to the train station," he said.
In the end, Title's newly proposed budget adjustments -- without pay-to-play and so on -- was met with majority approval.
Public comment was fairly brief Tuesday night, but John Convertito, who launched a referendum drive three weeks ago with fellow parent Richard Joslin to restore the $800,000 cut by the RTM, used his allotted time to let people know about the impending vote. The referendum will take place June 14, with voting between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. The Town Clerk's Office, on May 18, had certified more than enough voter signatures to qualify the budget-restoration proposal for the townwide vote.