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New Canaan Schools to Parents: Support Our Budget Request

A letter sent Monday from the Board of Ed to parents and other community members is urging residents to support in full a Board of Education request for funds next year.

 

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:

  1. Present to Board of Selectmen (whose members often recommend changes in spending to department heads);
  2. Go to the Board of Finance (which may alter allocations);
  3. On to a public meeting for input on overall budget (scheduled this year for March 12);
  4. 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."

Robert March 05, 2013 at 01:02 PM
Sounds a lot like our President's fear mongering.
MPM March 05, 2013 at 02:49 PM
Sorry, you are going to have to go with the times and learn how to do more with less - just like the rest of us
Roy A. Abramowitz March 05, 2013 at 03:46 PM
Chairwoman Bedula please explain to me whether the transfer of $4.5 million from the Bd of ED Special ED fund was actually transferred to a general fund of the town or just an un-substantiated rumor. I know that the Town's current "Independent" auditors have identified this scenarion of an inherent break down of internal control and lack of "best practices". If fact what was the money used for?, if not to educate our special needs children! If fact before you ask for taxpayer support in increasing your budget, when all private and public sector budgets are being slashed, transfer the $4.5 million back into your special needs budget from the general account. That will reduce your requested $5,006,244, 5.7% increase to approximately to $506,244 or six point nine tenths of 1% (.00687%). Taxpayer's are suffering. AMEX has laid off many from its Fairfield County operations, many have received no bonuses from their employers, which bonuses make up a vast percentage of their compensation. Household balance sheets have been trimmed drastically. Please explain why a 5.7% increase is mandated when all other private and public sector budgets are experiencing economies of scale, in other words being trimmed and freezing compensatory increases.
Ade March 05, 2013 at 03:50 PM
What do you think is bolstering your real estate values? The schools or a fancy town hall?
Ade March 05, 2013 at 04:58 PM
Roy - I'm pretty sure it was the Board of Finance and Town Council that initiated the transfer of funds out of the school coffers into the town's general account. Wasn't that money reimbursed funds from school special ed expenditures that had already been spent and accounted for? Do you really think the Board of Ed wouldn't be happy to have that back if they could? I'm sure it has already been spent on a sidewalk or the new town hall or wasted on a consultant to perform a nonsensical study for some other project. What kind of conspiracy are you charging Ms Bedula with exactly? Thanks for the scoop on the suffering of tax payers. I had no idea. Most of my net worth is tied up in an overpriced home I happily paid for to get my child into our superior school system. As soon as I feel the NCPS is not giving me the best bang for my buck, I'll move to a less expensive town and come here for visits. I just hope I'm ahead of the curve when it comes time to sell.
Richard P Vachula March 05, 2013 at 05:02 PM
Real estate values down 30% school budget up 30 % in last 6 yrs B of E had 10,000,000 slush fund when they keep asking for more and more each year -- they could not find 175,000 for their track repairs and came to the TC for the money -- what a joke !! -- and they will teach are kid to always tell the truth
Ade March 05, 2013 at 05:07 PM
Local Parent - The pay increase was approved 3 years ago by the Board of Finance is a fixed cost and can't be cut back (i.e., your $8/hr cut to $5/hr). If they want to approve pay increases then they should take into consideration the rest of the budget of which most of it is salaries and benefits. I don't think the Board of Ed is generating fear. If they didn't say anything ahead of the budget cuts and all of these cuts went though, the parents who don't frequent Board of Ed meetings would all be up in arms and accusing them of hiding facts. You can't win.
Glen K Dunbar March 05, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Well, whatever they make they and everyone else on earth make more or are better off than I am. I am not complaining about what I get in. BUT, what I have to send out and where is my complaint. Why can't I just spend my money on opera, dining and gifts for my secret Girl-Friends
NewCanaanBill March 05, 2013 at 05:18 PM
I am concerned every time the BOE delivers a proposed budget. These are not bountiful times for people, even in New Canaan. Many companies are cutting staff and decreasing expenditures. Many of us in town have learned to do more with less. It appears this lesson is not reaching the BOE. They feel they can ignore guidelines. While receiving cost of living increases, they are asking for much more. These increases are compounded by the previous year’s one time expenditures. Where does it end – when the BOE get 100% of New Canaan’s budget? Can’t the NCPS work within the Council’s parameters without sending their goons out with their doomsday messages? The BOE needs to look at their planned budget and make thoughtful cuts. The keyword is thoughtful, not retaliatory hacks. Having efficient school spending rather than unrestrained outlays will do more for appreciating real estate values – this has an added benefit of reasonable taxes.
Elmcrest March 05, 2013 at 05:58 PM
The NCPS “goons” you refer to are the members of the Board of Education, duly elected by the voters of New Canaan. They are our fellow citizens and neighbors, and they’re doing the job we elected them to do. You may have a valid point, but it’s hard to take it seriously when you’re calling folks hoodlums and thugs.
Ade March 05, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Richard, Can you back up your 30% with some evidence? I would think if your numbers were valid, we would have heard about this long before now and from someone other than you.
Richard P Vachula March 05, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Jeb told me back in 2011 that "we have contractual obligations" which is true - but he failed to say that the total amount of money spent was under his and the TC control --we do not have to give them one red cent more then last year -- let them decide how to spend it -- in 2011 they had 124 teacher aids at a cost of $3,100,000
Richard P Vachula March 05, 2013 at 06:50 PM
Just like the feds -- this not a cut in spending it's a cut in what they asked for --- they still will get more then last year--- will their ever be truth in our time -- no wonder the public is fed up !
Ade March 05, 2013 at 07:10 PM
I'm not saying it has to be all or nothing or that frugality should be tossed out the window but you can only cut and postpone for so long before our school system no longer resembles the competition or what put it at the top of the list in the first place. Will you still be happy about your prop tax if there are 25+ kids per class and no programs outside of CMT prep? The numbers are close to that at 2 of the 3 elem schools. It's not fear mongering. It's the reality of an increase in student enrollment. We pay someone to track it and he has failed miserably. There's a cost we could cut from the budget. If you are willing to send your kids to a mediocre school system, you should consider moving now and save yourself a few bucks. The governor is willing to give massive increases of funding to failing districts (that already spend the same per student as NC) but no increase to a high performing district so that we can stay at the top of our game? You pay state taxes, too. Do you think that only failing school districts should have funds for arts/music, gifted ed & reasonable class sizes? I find it interesting that the BOE is being bashed for using email to spread the word. Nobody cares until the 11th hour. I have attended a whole lot of long and lonely Board of Ed meetings for years and speak up before March 1st about things that are important to me. If everyone did, we wouldn't have these last minute uprisings. The information is always available on the NCPS website.
Ade March 05, 2013 at 07:14 PM
Since when did utilizing modern technology to share news become an affront to society? Would it be better if they spent money on paper and stamps to let you know?
Ade March 05, 2013 at 07:22 PM
If you ever, even once, attended a Board of Ed meeting, you would know that what these people (volunteers AND our neighbors) do is incredibly thoughtful and painstaking. They neither take it lightly nor sit in a back room cackling while dreaming up ways to waste our money. They are not goons or hacks.
Alexander A. Amarilios March 05, 2013 at 08:09 PM
Recent times have proved definitely that the people handlinmg public monies do not appear to realize that what they are spending now and especially what they are promising for the future must be extracted from the taxpayers and that in hard times the taxpayers as a group are not really making more money to be taxed every year. In their contracts they should always insert a clause that will allow them to renegotiate contracts to take into account current conditions. Ideally this year's expenditures should never exceed last year's receipts.
Roy A. Abramowitz March 05, 2013 at 09:01 PM
Ade: It would be prudent to know who you really are so that we can consider your response in view of your position. Secondly no-one is attacking or accusing any person with a conspiracy. FYI I have a 13 year old daughter at Saxe who will attend the High School next year. You can inquire of any teacher, administrator or other school pesonnel of the support my wife and I have for our school system and personnel. They all have done a fabulous job with my daughter. I attended the NYC Public School System where we had 35 to 40 students in a class. We played sports on concrete, except football. We walked to school for a mile or two and school was not cancelled for three inches of snow. People made due with available resources. I was accepted to a top ten business graduate school and graduated with honors. The point here is that we are facing dire economic times and tuff choices need to be made. Guaranteed annual salary increases and pensions are no longer an option when the persons funding through tax dollars are facing austerity measures.Blame is not being placed here on the BOE. If the BOF and TC allows the hand in the cookie jar unchecked in the past it is understandably hard to change now. You have a Governor who is spending 168 million on administrating a state earned income tax credit. Pershaps the dough could be better spent on education. Perhaps that is your avenue for recourse. What we need here is a change in the rubber-stamping town council and an elected BOF.
S Tadik March 06, 2013 at 12:24 AM
Roy, I know you are supportive of the fiscal responsibility of the newer members of Town Council. The entrenched members who are free spending will eventually need to explain their actions to the voters. An elected BOF should be more responsive to fiscal conservatives. There might be a substantial overlap between the voters who have kids in school and those who want more goodies from the other taxpayers. Stay vigilant, Roy. The tax season will pass and then you can free up some time for practical solutions and organizational change.
Richard P Vachula March 06, 2013 at 05:33 PM
It's been a long time to reach this point -- The B of E has had a blank check for the last 10 yrs -" times they are a changing - so either help or get out of the way" BOB DYLAN --- 30% down real estate -- My Stamford real estate assessment on my investment property just done - down 30% -- my New Canaan home just appraised by Peoples down 30 % from 2006 -- now B of E $60,697,997 in 2006-2007 budget now $79,000,000 that's up 30% Abe -- while they hid 10,000,000 from the taxpayers
Four Jacks March 06, 2013 at 08:32 PM
Speaking of technology, our school system recently purchased this software called "Powerschool". This is where teachers are SUPPOSED to log in assignments and grades. My child is at the HS, and the teachers there refuse to use it. Why did we spend money on something that is supposed to help families and then not use it? NCHS is wasteful and I'd like to see more accountability before we increase the budget significantly.
Jon S. March 06, 2013 at 09:11 PM
Recently? No, they’ve had Powerschool for years. I just checked my son’s account today, and all his teachers are using it. I can see attendance, test grades, homework completed, quiz grades, assignments completed or still incomplete, current GPA, honor roll standing, etc. It’s a great way to keep parents in the loop. If your kid’s teachers aren’t using it, ask them, personally, why not.
S Tadik March 07, 2013 at 12:09 AM
THANK YOU FOR YOUR OFFER It is clear that the NCPS are asking the town of New Canaan for funding which they feel is important. A few years ago, many school supporters favored $500,000 or so in funding for sidewalks on Main Street. Some of the sidewalk supporters offered private funding and one highly-resourced proponent offered to pay for the entire project. Since the town needs money, maybe this is a time for a public-private initiative to help the education system. The letters and articles below mention some people who favored the sidewalks. Can you help out the town and the educational system? Let’s keep our kids safe and continue their education. http://newcanaan.dailyvoice.com/news/new-canaan-residents-offer-help-sidewalks http://www.newcanaannewsonline.com/opinion/article/Letters-to-the-Editor-1345747.php http://www.newcanaannewsonline.com/default/article/Main-Street-Sidewalking-the-issue-1276380.php
Great Good March 08, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Seems that if the public took the time to be informed about the reason the school's proposed budgets increased, they would not be as fed up! If our town has capital projects like a new parking lot, fire station renovation and town hall renovation on it's horizon, which are for the greater good of the town, so too, at a minimum, the school budget should be supported so that classroom instruction is not impacted.
Richard P Vachula March 08, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Update?
Drama Mama March 10, 2013 at 01:05 AM
My child has a teacher that hasn't logged on to Powerschool at all this semester and last semester had a teacher who didn't log on to it for the month before mid-terms. These are the same teachers who refuse to answer student emails or parent emails. We are paying them for what exactly?
Resident 44 years March 12, 2013 at 06:46 PM
Real estate values are down in new Canaan by 42'26 percent the average sale price is down 23.54 the median sale price is down 42.26 percent the median sale price is $875,000 down from1,515,500 in 2012. The people who will bare the biggest increase in real estate taxes next year will be those in the bracket under $2,000.000. The revaluation next year is mandated by the state and this could force many into a problem The Wall Street Journal places New Canaan with the most foreclosure s in the usawith homes over $1,000,000 THESE FACTS ARE OFFICIAL Real Estate Board Data

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