Board of Finance, school administrators, look for further cuts to education budget
NEW CANAAN — Large numbers of students and parents turned up at Town Hall Tuesday night to voice their support for the proposed Board of Education budget and hopefully ward off excessive cuts.
“I recognize that the requested budget increase is more than the Board of Finance’s edict,” said New Canaan High School freshman Olivia West, at a Tuesday Board of Finance Public Hearing, referring to a charge that all department budgets increase at a rate of no more than two percent year over year. In January, the Board of Education approved a $90 million budget, at a 3.48 percent increase.
“But I think the investment is necessary,” West continued, citing the high school’s historically high performance and varied offerings. “If the Board of Education has to cut $1.3 million, as proposed, it would require significant reductions to programs and staff.”
West was one of several members of the public to urge against more than a $1 million in cuts that would bring the school budget down to the Board of Finance’s desire 2 percent mark. Several members of the Board of Education also spoke in defense of the budget.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Penny Rashin began by thanking the board for allowing open dialogue and calling New Canaan Schools a “premier” district in the state.
“As you all know, we can’t rest on our laurels, or we’ll start to fall behind,” Rashin continued. “The continued excellence, in my view, of our school system depends upon our having a robust program of academics and co-curricular activities. We have to have excellent teachers and they need to be supported by reading and math specialists and aides, and administrators who are focused on education.”
Chairman Dionna Carlson said that the Board of Education budget has grown proportionately over the years with the town’s budget and that the 69 percent of New Canaan’s overall budget that the education budget represents has remained constant in the past 10 years.
Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi detailed new savings measures determined by school personnel in the last week, after learning that the Board of Finance desired a learner document. They included savings on workers compensation and turnover savings, as well as deferred maintenance project's, but totaled only $500,000, a sum too small for some of the finance board.
Not all parents in attendance were in favor of the budget increase.
“I think we need to be careful as a community to have detailed conversations about the financial situation we find ourselves in and not succumb to the tyranny of the parent,” said Rita Nagle, who has four children in New Canaan Public Schools. “We all love our kids. We all want to have a good school district, right? But the reality is, there are ideas floating around New Canaan that school spending supports property values, and that’s simply not the economic relationship that exists.”
Instead, Nagle explained, it is property values that fund taxes, which in turn, fund school spending — not the reverse. She added that a large percentage of those in town have no school-aged kids, and many seniors are being “squeezed out.”
Some members of the Board of Finance asked for a commitment from school administrators to stay within the 2 percent range in future budget cycles. Others advocated for more cuts, and fast.
“We need to look at efficiencies this year,” said Board of Finance Secretary Judy Neville.
Luizzi said that further cuts were discussed by school administrators and the Board of Education, but that more reductions would come at the detriment of the district.
“The budget we bring forward is what we believe will maintain and help us to improve in some high leverage, low resource areas that are important, but at the same time we want to be responsive to the meeting that we had with the Board of Finance and try to continue to be good partners in all this work,” Luizzi said.
The Board of Finance will meet again to discuss the budget March 8 and a vote is planned.