By Genevieve Reilly

Staff Writer

The $263 million budget adopted this week for Fairfield's new fiscal year may be challenged in a referendum -- not by residents seeking to cut the spending package, but by two petitioners seeking to restore money to the education budget.

Oyster Road resident John Convertito has asked the Town Clerk's office to prepare the petitions, which he plans to circulate to qualify for a referendum vote on his proposal to restore the $800,000 cut in the school budget by the Representative Town Meeting on Monday.

A second resident, Richard Joslin of Carriage Drive, also requested referendum petitions to add education money -- one that supports restoring the entire $800,000 cut and the other supporting restoration of $500,000.

The referendum petition calling for increasing the school board budget by $800,000 has been prepared, but had not yet been picked up by Convertito as of Wednesday morning, but Joslin had picked up both of the petitions he requested.

The education budget approved by the RTM for 2011-12 is $145.7 million, about $4.1 million over the current $141.6 million.

The petitioners have until May 17 to collect 1,748 voter signatures, or 5 percent of the town's registered voters, to qualify for a referendum. If enough signatures are collected, supporters of the referendum initiative need to have the majority of those casting votes in the referendum to be in favor of the funding increase and that number must equal 25 percent of the town's registered voters.

Officials in the Town Clerk's office said there have been referendums in the past that sought to increase spending, but like nearly all those seeking to cut an expenditure, they have not succeeded.

Acting First Selectman Sherri Steeneck, who had tried to make additional cuts to the Board of Education's $146 million budget at the Board of Selectmen level, said, "It's all part of the process."

The Convertito family turned out in support of the school budget at Monday's Representative Town Meeting. Greg Convertito, co-president of the Fairfield Ludlowe High School Student Council, talked about leaking windows and loud radiators that drown out the teachers at the school.

"I understand it needs to be cut because we are in hard times," the high school student said, but money saved today "may impact your children's future."

"This is cutting for the sake of cutting," his father, John, told the RTM that night, for no other reason than to make a political point. "This is a shameful attempt to make a political point on the backs of our children."

The RTM's Republican majority initially proposed making a $1.2 million cut in school spending, which was scaled back to an $800,000 reduction that won final approval.

A telephone listing could not be found for the Convertitos. Joslin could not be reached Wednesday for comment.