Op-Ed: School budget — Something’s got to give
You couldn’t find a group of people less likely to complain about a new restaurant coming to the neighborhood than bereaved family members and friends attending a wake for a loved one.
Yet when the Applebee’s chain wanted to open at restaurant at the shopping center at the Post Road and South Bensen Road several years ago, local opposition killed the proposal. The shopping center’s nearest neighbor is the Spear Miller Funeral home across the street, whose visitors, as we say, weren’t likely to express any opposition.
Whoever the opponents were, the Applebee’s proposal was dead.
Another example of local opponents stiff-arming new business was the decade-long fight by neighbors to prevent a new Walgreen’s from opening on Stratfield Road at the site of the old Stratfield Market. The Goddard School, a private preschool, recently announced plans to open at the site this September. The school, of course, won’t be paying taxes to the town.
We cite these examples in the wake of last week’s approval of a town budget of $317.5 million, with $182.3 million going to the Board of Education.
Board of Selectmen members strongly criticized new proposed state mandates for local towns, but also noted that the Board of Education may have to do some belt-tightening.
Selectman Christopher Tymniak cautioned that the Board of Education — which will get a 5 percent increase next year with its approved $182.3 million budget — needs to reel in spending going forward.
“The Board of Education needs to look at the rising increase to its percentage each year ... It’s on an unsustainable path right now, particularly since we have declining enrollment,” he said.
“I’d like more cooperation,” he said, from the Board of Education, “with a real defined effort to have that increase come down.”
“I don’t take lightly voting on a $317-million budget,” said Tymniak, who opined that they were “hamstringed” by a tight deadline to get their vote completed and would have liked to look closer at particulars.
“I agree with everything that Chris said,” Selectman Edward Bateson said. “With a budget this large, so many thoughts are going through my head, (but) with the forces that are at play, (this) is the best we can do in this scenario.”
He, too, called the school budget “unsustainable,” and expressed concern that owing to many unknown variables, the school budget could jump to a 5 or 6 percent increase next year.
“What are we going to do then?” he asked.
“We need to start planning (and) restructuring how we deliver these services — the Board of Education needs to,” Bateson said. “It’s not gonna be pretty.”
Some of the squeeze on the school budget and other town services residents favor might be eased, of course, at the revenue end if residents were more willing to approve new tax-paying businesses. The town’s future depends on those decisions.
Tom Henry is the editor of the Fairfield Citizen