By Rob Glidden
The Board of Education approved a school budget of $85.3 million for the next fiscal year that includes the funds necessary to launch a full-day kindergarten program.
The recommended budget represents a 3.51 percent increase over the previous year. This is a reduction of about $900,000 from the proposal presented by Superintendent of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi, which would have been a 4.87 percent increase.
Most of the BOE’s discussion hinged on the all-day kindergarten proposal, which adds about a million dollars to the budget but is offset somewhat by staff reductions elsewhere. The net increase in staffing costs to the budget associated with the program amounts to $457,792 with another $147,745 devoted to one-time expenses like furniture.
The kindergarten proposal has gotten a variety of different reactions in the community over the last several weeks. During the meeting, however, everyone from the public who spoke and referenced the issue expressed support for the idea.
“We went to kindergarten a long time ago, but the world has changed since then,” said Bill Lutz, who sits on the executive board of the Southington Education Foundation. “It’s become a more complex and competitive world.”
The BOE decided to include the proposal within the budget, citing the stricter federal and state standards and the desire to make sure kindergarteners had more time to socialize and play.
“I want to give the children in Southington the best possible start they can have,” said Vice-Chair Terri Carmody.
Eight of the board’s nine members voted in favor of the budget with the kindergarten program included, although some expressed concerns and uncertainty. Board member Zaya Oshana opted to abstain from the vote.
“There’s no real evidence out there that this works,” Oshana said. “I don’t feel comfortable putting it in place without knowing that.”
During the discussion, the board also expressed some anxiety about the overall size of the budget request and sought to reduce some other small line-items. After voting individually to cut several of these other expenses, the board had the final amount it would pass on the Board of Finance.
“I believe in all-day kindergarten as a parent and the majority of staff and parents support it,” said Chairman Brian Goralski, but he also noted that the board’s loyalty to the program would be tested if the BOF or the Town Council made significant cuts to their request and they were forced to decide how to adjust their budget.