Litchfield News

School board's proposed increase slashed to zero (04-09-19)

Board of Finance Chairman William Burgess comments during a meeting Monday at which the board reduced the Board of Education's proposed budget increase to zero. BZ photo
Litchfield’s Board of Finance appears to have set itself up for criticism from the public with its decision Monday to reduce the Board of Education’s proposed budget increase of $763,474 for 2019-20 to zero.
The move leaves the school board with a new budget proposal of $18,993,526, or the amount of its current budget. The board was looking for a budget of $19,757,000 for next year.
To get to a zero-growth budget, the school board could cut four teaching positions, the dean of students’ job at the high school, the Spanish program at the intermediate school, middle school sports, the high school swim team and professional development for teachers, according to a plan Superintendent of Schools Sherri Turner presented to the board during a special meeting following the action by the finance board.
The school board didn’t approve the recommendation of Turner and instead will wait to discuss potential cuts during a special meeting on April 22. The board will, however, have to present a zero-growth budget at a budget hearing April 24.
School board Chairman Gayle Carr said supporters of the town’s schools can express themselves at the hearing.
“They need to come out and tell the Board of Finance that this cut is unacceptable,” Carr said.
The finance board voted 4-2 to cut the school board’s budget plan. Richard Quay proposed the move and voted for it, as did Edward Gadomski, Chairman William Burgess and Sky Post. Erich Marriott and James Stedronsky were opposed.
According to Burgess and Quay, the school board needs to become more cost-effective as student population continues to show a lack of growth and per-pupil costs rise past $22,000. Quay said he hopes the finance board’s action prompts the school board to take a harder look at spending.
Stedronsky had suggested reducing the proposed budget by about $300,000 and called the finance board’s cut a punitive response to the school board’s decision in March to leave the town’s self-insurance pool and sign up for its own insurance plan with ConnectiCare to save a projected $250,000.
The finance board is disputing the estimated savings and has said the school board’s action has affected the finance board’s ability to get a proposed town budget ready for the April 24 hearing. The estimated savings are pegged at $122,000, according to the finance board.
Quay said he took offense to the board being characterized as a group interested in cutting taxes at the expense of the schools.
“We’re not a bunch of old white guys only looking to make cuts to lower taxes so we can go to dinner at al tavolo,” Quay said, noting that only the youngest member of the board, Marriott, has children in the school system.