Saying it’d hurt students if New Canaan schools next year get less money than the district is seeking, the Board of Education is calling for a show of support from parents at public budget meetings.
Requests from taxpayer-supported departments follow this basic process each year:
- Present to Board of Selectmen (whose members often recommend changes in spending to department heads);
- Go to the Board of Finance (which may alter allocations);
- On to a public meeting for input on overall budget (scheduled this year for March 12);
- Seek final approval from Town Council (which can approve, reject or reduce requested amounts).
In its email, the school board uses the word ‘cuts’ to describe changes that town officials are recommending to its original request: $2 million less than requested in operations and about $1 million less for capital spending.
“While we understand that this is a difficult budget year for the town, making cuts up to $2,000,000 in the operating budget would be detrimental to the education of the students in the district and ultimately to a community that takes pride in and benefits from a premier educational system,” part of the email said. The full letter is attached as a PDF.
Board of Education Chair Alison Bedula told Patch in an email late Monday that the letter went out to parents as well as other members of the community.
"This effort is to provide everyone with accurate budget information to date," Bedula said in her email. "There has been a lot of confusion around this budget process so as a board, we wanted to clarify the facts."
The short note in the body of the email reads:
Parents, Please read the attached letter from the Board of Education about the details and the status of potential budget cuts for the upcoming school year. Also outlined is the process for dealing with the budget going forward. We hope you will take an active interest in the impact the budget cuts could have on your child’s education!
Overall, the Board of Education is seeking a 5.7 percent year-over-year increase to its operating budget, to about $78.8 million, the email says. The total figure for the school board would represent roughly two-thirds of all taxpayer spending.
Importantly, the letter notes—as Superintendent Dr. Mary Kolek has in past presentations on the budget request—that "unique circumstances" have coincided to give rise to a larger-than-usual spending need.
Nearly all of the additional money the school board is seeking on the operations side is due to increases tied to contracts, the email says. In its breakdown of the capital budget, the school board cites several items and projects ‘cut’ from the budget, including building condition surveys, water boilers, parking lot seal and replacement shades (again, the full letter is attached as a PDF).
Though it's true that the finance officials are recommending less than the amount of taxpayer funding the district is seeking, year-over-year the schools would see a 3 percent increase given the finance board's working recommendation.
One of the meetings cited by the school board, where it’s asking for a show of support, is Tuesday night’s special meeting of the finance board. However, officials say, there’s no agenda item allowing public comment at that meeting and the agenda is set. Administrative Officer Tom Stadler said in an email that the March 12 meeting—to be held at the New Canaan Nature Center—includes a public hearing session on the budget.
“At that [March 12] meeting, in accordance with the Town Charter and custom, the public may be heard with respect to any budget recommendations,” Stadler said in the email.
Bedula said it was too bad that no public comment will take place at Tuesday's finance board meeting "as the [Board of Finance] must publish their budget on March 6th."
"We are disappointed that there is no opportunity for the public to provide input before the budget is published but we have asked our parents to come to the meeting if they would like to show their support," she said. "They have scheduled a meeting for March 12th for public comment after which they say they will finalize their budget."