By Rob Glidden
With a few exceptions, the residents who spoke during a Town Council public hearing on this year’s budget passionately urged the officials to restore the school board’s full request.
The recommendation from the Board of Finance is an $84.2 million budget for the schools, which is $1.1 million less than the proposal passed by the Board of Education. The BOF recommends $45.1 million for the general government budget. Chairman John Leary said that if the council adopted his board’s recommendation without restoring any of the reductions, there would be a slight decrease in taxes.
If the council were to endorse the BOF’s version of the budget, it would likely come at the cost of the planned all-day kindergarten program, which makes up about a million dollars of the BOE’s request increase.
“We respect the work of the Board of Finance, but we stand behind the budget we originally put forward,” said Chairman Brian Goralski.
The comments made during the public hearing were focused entirely on the school budget, with the majority of speakers urging the council to restore the funds removed from the original proposal.
“In the public sector, you get what you pay for and quality services cost money,” said resident Gloria Brown.
Former finance board member Philip Pomposi said the town had been generous with the schools over the years and wanted the officials to consider senior citizens on a fixed income.
“People get up here every year and say the budget has been cut,” he said. “It hasn’t been cut. It’s just less of an increase and they have gotten increases year after year.”
Many speakers exclusively discussed all-day kindergarten during their remarks, with many teachers and parents expressing support for the program. School officials have repeatedly said that the change is needed to keep pace with increasing state and federal standards.
“The half-day program has improved over the years, but it will never improve enough to meet the Common Core State Standards,” said Joshua Smith, who works as a school administrator outside of Southington.
A survey conducted by the BOE earlier this year found the vast majority of parents were in favor of the program. Resident Lakshmi Frechette has been at the forefront of the counter-argument and has circulated an online petition to keep the current kindergarten program.
“[The program] will impose unnecessary pressure on them and rob them of the full joy of childhood,” Frechette said. “Please consider the effort to maintain the half-day program on behalf of our youngest students.”
The council will not make its decision on the budget until May, although Minority Leader Chris Palmieri stated that the council’s Democrats supported restoring funds to the school budget. Chairman John Dobbins expressed concerns about the ongoing financial troubles on the state and federal level, but the Republican majority opted not to weigh in on the budget proposal yet.