The Town Council mulled over the school district's requested 5.7 percent 2013-14 operating budget increase in a question-and-answer session with district officials Wednesday night at the New Canaan Nature Center.
The discussion included insurance funding increases, school security officers and the "elephant in the room," as Board of Education Chairman Alison Bedula called it, the $2 million budget cut suggested by the Board of Finance Tuesday night.
When pressed on what programming or staff would be cut if required, neither Bedula nor Superintendent Mary Kolek wanted to speak with any specificity.
"We were hoping a budget would be passed at 5.7 (percent)," Bedula said. "No, in terms of the Board of Ed, we haven't had any discussions about that."
Kolek said the district's administrative team met earlier Wednesday for an hour and a half to discuss that possibility and said that at the end of the day the only option is to cut staff.
As part of its 2013-14 budget, the school district requested $226,221 for unarmed security guards at the entrance of each schools Until now, that function has largely been filled by volunteers or other school staff.
"After Newtown, a line was crossed," Bedula said. "Parents no longer wanted the responsibility of sitting at those desks."
This request was met with some opposition, primarily from Town Councilman John Engel, who was resistant to the idea on the grounds of school climate and cost. Engel, whose 6-year-old cousin, Olivia, was killed in the Newtown shooting, said he spoke with New Canaan Police Chief Ed Nadriczny about security in the schools.
"I asked if they were going to look like TSA security guards. I think that is not the culture that we want to build. We have always used a culture of volunteerism," Engel said, adding that he had a tough time accepting the $223,221 request, "when the police chief says that our greatest risk is going to come from risky behavior on the part of students themselves, and is asking for $60,000 for an SRO (School Resource Officer) at Saxe (Middle School)."
Discussion of security needs and costs will continue at tonight's Town Council meeting, to be held at 7:30 p.m. at the New Canaan Nature Center.
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