By Ed Harris
The public by and large supported the Board of Education and its budget proposal during a hearing at DePaolo Middle School Monday night.
Numerous residents, teachers, PTO and town officials spoke in favor of passing the school board proposal as is, with little to no cuts. Only three people talked out against the Board of Education proposal, focusing on the plan to add all-day kindergarten.
Of those three, one backed the addition of all-day kindergarten, but asked that it be phased in.
“You can’t spend enough on our education system,” said resident James Williamson.
Williamson said he had lived in four states over the years and had moved to Southington due to the school system, even though he no longer had any school aged children. He urged the Board of Finance, which oversaw the meeting, to fully pass the school board budget and allow for the implementation of the all-day kindergarten program.
Resident Dr. Mary Yuskis and her husband John agreed, both urging for the full funding of the school budget and the kindergarten program.
“I am in one hundred percent favor of all day kindergarten,” Mary Yuskis said. “Our children are ready.”
Lakshmi Frechette was one of the few to speak against the funding of all-day program. She argued that the family bond was more important than a kindergarten program.
Frechette also argued against the information and statistics behind the move to all-day kindergarten. She said that any gains made were minimal and lost by the third grade.
“The data is lacking,” she said.
The school board proposal, which has already spent some time in front of the Board of Finance, is for $85.3 million, an increase of 3.51 percent over the previous year. This budget is about $900,000 less than the original proposal from Southington School Supt. Dr. Joseph Erardi. Erardi’ original proposal would have called for a 4.87 percent increase.
School officials have cited rising costs for salaries, health insurance, special education, and transportation as familiar reasons for the increase proposal. Other reasons, such as $412,000 worth of technology upgrades and the hotly debated all-day kindergarten program, were more specific to this year.
The town side of the budget did not get all that much debate, compared to the Board of Education’s side. This is likely because the town side budget is asking for a very minimal increase.
Town Manager Garry Brumback’s proposal is a $593,194 or 1.3 percent increase over last year’s $45.3 million budget. The increases in the proposed budget stem from a rise in capital requirements, though many of these increases are offset by revenue derived from an increase in state aid and the close out of some smaller projects, and an increase in medical insurance costs.
The budget proposal also funds the initial bonds for the middle school rehabilitation project and road improvements that were passed overwhelmingly at a recent referendum.
Perhaps the main point of contention on the town’s side is the doubling of the Information Technology Department’s allocation, which is earmarked to further implement a virtual town hall. This includes a 51.7 percent rise in the IT budget, increasing that allocation from $243,222 to $507,734.
The increase deals with information technology and a virtual town hall that Brumback began implementing last year.
“This year’s budget was extremely hard to prepare,” Brumback told the tax board, citing state finances.
Brumback also praised the town department heads for “responsible” proposals.
If both the town government and school board budgets are passed as is, they would result in about a two-thirds of a mil increase in taxes.
The Board of Finance must adopt a budget by April 1 and submit it to the Town Council. In turn, the Town Council must adopt the budget no later than May 13.