Referendum roll call: Who stands where on ed vote
It's no secret where the Convertito family stands in Tuesday's referendum battle to restore $800,000 to Fairfield's education budget. John Convertito was a driving force behind securing the voter signatures needed to qualify for a townwide vote to overturn the Representative Town Meeting's cut and restore the money to the $145.2 million school budget for 2011-12.
The Oyster Road resident also has established a political action committee -- Fairfielders Against Cutting Educational Spending -- and sports a red "Yes" campaign sign on the back of his bright yellow Hummer.
But what about the town's elected leaders, particularly those who have announced their candidacy for first selectman?
Board of Finance member Michael Tetreau, a Democrat who Thursday night was virtually certain to be appointed interim first selectman, said the referendum can be a "healthy experience" for townspeople.
More InformationWHERE TO VOTE Referendum voting on whether to restore the $800,000 cut by the Representative Town Meeting from Fairfield's 2011-12 education budget will take place Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the following polling places: District 1: Fairfield Senior Center, 100 Mona Terrace District 2: Burr Elementary School, Burr Street District 3: Dwight Elementary School, 1600 Redding Road District 4: Osborn Hill School, 760 Stillson Road District 5: McKinley School, 60 Thompson St. District 6: Fairfield Warde High School, 755 Melville Ave. District 7: North Stratfield School, 190 Putting Green Road District 8: Holland Hill School, 200 Meadowcroft Road District 9: Fairfield Ludlowe High School, 785 Unquowa Road District 10: Sherman Elementary School, 250 Fern St.
"I supported the budget adjustment that was made by the Board of Finance," Tetreau said. "I have concerns about cutting the Board of Education budget beyond that $2 million.
"I don't believe the additional $800,000 should have been cut from the BOE budget."
The school board had requested $148.5 million for the 2011-12 fiscal year that starts July 1, an amount that got whittled down by $2 million after review by then-First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, the Board of Selectmen and the finance board.
"This year, we saw RTM members propose cuts without being sure if the cuts had already been included in the initial $2 million reduction," Tetreau said. "This is not fair to the teachers, administrators, students, parents, taxpayers, the RTM members or any of the public. It is hard to argue for or against an adjustment if you don't know the impact."
The May vote to cut the $800,000 passed the RTM in a 22-20 vote.
Republican David Becker, an RTM member from District 1 seeking this year's GOP nomination for first selectman, voted in favor of a $600,000 reduction in school spending, but against the eventual $800,000 cut. Becker, in fact, made the motion to reduce the cut to $600,000, but that motion failed when only 11 RTM members voted in favor.
"I am not in favor of the size of the reduction," Becker said. "In fact, I continue to believe that a compromise could have been reached, one that respected our fiscal responsibilities as well as the educational needs of Fairfield's students."
That being said, however, Becker said he does not support a vote to completely overturn the RTM action. It is, he said, "time for us to move forward."
Board of Finance Vice Chairman Robert Bellitto Jr., who also is seeking the Republican nomination for first selectman, said that after much reflection, he plans to vote "no" next Tuesday.
"As a parent, I expect my children to get a quality education," Bellitto said. "As a taxpayer, I expect my taxes to be reasonably affordable."
And as a finance board member, he said, he's trying to do both.
Bellitto said the cuts approved by the Board of Education to reconcile its budget request with the $2.8 million in reductions are difficult, "but students will still receive a quality education, and taxpayers will have some measure of relief when they need it most."
If the referendum is successful, he said, it could "unintentionally impact town union contract negotiations and arbitration decisions. It is difficult to argue for austerity while adding $800,000 to an already increased town budget."
According to Fiscal Officer Paul Hiller, the $800,000 reduction would save the average taxpayer about $32 for the coming fiscal year.
Tetreau said the referendum provides beneficial feedback to elected boards from taxpayers, and added the RTM must understand that when it approves employee contracts with salary increases, they are, in effect, setting the tax increases for the term of that contract. He also said the school board needs to remain involved throughout the budget-approval process and the first selectman needs to meet with the superintendent and the Board of Education chairman long before the budget book is prepared.
"We need to work together to make informed decisions," he said.
"The economic state of our town was not caused solely by the Great Recession," Bellitto said. "It has been decades in the making. Town officials must spend wisely, invest prudently and consider the long-range impact of decisions made today."
Acting First Selectman Sherri Steeneck, who will not seek re-election to the Board of Selectmen in November, wanted to see that board make deeper cuts to the school budget.
"I think the RTM made the right move," Steeneck said. "There are places where the budget could be cut that wouldn't impact the students; it doesn't have to be pay-for-play," a controversial proposal that would have required high school athletes to pay a fee, which has been dropped.
Steeneck said she believes the Board of Education could streamline administrative areas of the school system "and cut a lot more than $800,000."
Jamie Millington, R-9, and Edward Bateson, R-3, respectively the majority and deputy majority leaders of the RTM, said they encourage the referendum process so taxpayer voices can be heard. In a letter to the editor, they said the budget increase that the Board of Education has been granted, despite the $2.8 million in reductions, "represents a strong statement of support" for the school district.
"In our view, this increase is a measured approach which takes into consideration both the need to ease the ever increasing burden upon Fairfield's taxpayers while still providing adequate resource for our children's education," they wrote.
Not surprisingly, the Fairfield Education Association, "strongly supports" the referendum effort.
"The quality of education that Fairfield is known for will be seriously impacted by this cut of almost $3 million," said Anne Pasco, the president of the teachers' union. "The only portion which may be restored is the $800,000.
The looming cuts in Spanish language instruction, she said, will be "crippling," and added that the last time the district eliminated language instruction at the elementary level it took almost two decades to restore the program.
The loss of staff in the writing labs at both high schools also "is a serious blow to the gains that have been made," while the reduction of library staff districtwide "further erodes instruction across all disciplines."
"We advocate, support and are fighting for the quality of education in Fairfield," Pasco said.
No matter the outcome of the voting, Bellitto said, once the referendum results are in, "we must all put away the red signs and green signs, and begin to work together again."
REFERENDUM: WHEN, WHERE TO VOTE
Referendum voting on whether to restore the $800,000 cut by the Representative Town Meeting from Fairfield's 2011-12 education budget will take place Tuesday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the following polling places:
District 1: Fairfield Senior Center, 100 Mona Terrace
District 2: Burr Elementary School, Burr Street
District 3: Dwight Elementary School, 1600 Redding Road
District 4: Osborn Hill School, 760 Stillson Road
District 5: McKinley School, 60 Thompson St.
District 6: Fairfield Warde High School, 755 Melville Ave.
District 7: North Stratfield School, 190 Putting Green Road
District 8: Holland Hill School, 200 Meadowcroft Road
District 9: Fairfield Ludlowe High School, 785 Unquowa Road
District 10: Sherman Elementary School, 250 Fern St.