At their Sept. 28 meeting, the Board of Education addressed a letter written to the Town Manager Garry Brumback and Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan on behalf of the Town Council regarding the current state of the Connecticut budget.
Members of the BOE expressed concerns with the letter and hinted that they might not respond by the council’s Oct. 20 deadline. Republican BOE chair Brian Goralski read the letter publicly at the meeting before voicing his protests to the letter, and his opinions were echoed by board members on both sides of the aisle.
“I worry about the direction you outline in your letter,” Goralski said. “Rather than having the town manager and the superintendent look to reduce budgets we approved, I recommend we look to set up a joint meeting with representatives of the council, Board of Education, Board of Finance, along with key administrators of the town and school system to discuss the best plan moving forward.”
The Town Council’s letter was crafted by chair Michael Riccio and Democratic caucus leader Chris Palmieri, and it was sent on Sept. 22 to Brumback and Connellan. It asked the subjects to “prepare a list of how they would absorb this $5 million cut and the impact that this cut would have on operations.”
The letter explains that in years past, the first Education Cost Sharing (ECS) installment of approximately $5 million would be expected by the end of October. This installment is one of four installments of the year.
The letter writes, “We are optimistic that we will never have to exercise this option but feel strongly that it would be inappropriate not to at least start planning. We are asking that these documents be prepared no later than Oct. 20.”
Goralski went on to explain that this year, the school’s budget was reduced by $1.1 million, which resulted in the loss of 14 faculty positions, $250,000 in textbooks, and the dissolution of middle school sports. Additional cuts, he said, would come out of staff and programs.
“I am confident there will eventually be a state budget and something will be coming our way,” said Goralski. “If we start proposing reductions of town services without all the facts and a clear plan, it will cause unneeded stress on residents who rely on those services, and raise fears in families about the education of their children.”
Connellan told the board that 80 percent of the school budget is salaries and benefits. “If there was a need to reduce, we can only freeze so much and then we’re looking at staff and programs,” he said.
Democrat Robert Brown echoed the chair’s opinions, saying that he was frustrated with the idea of creating a list of budget cuts in advance. “To have a meeting now without knowing what the state is going to give us, we’re just going to be guessing, and we’re probably going to scare a heck of a lot of people about losing their jobs and that may not happen,” he said. “Until we know what the state is giving us, why make a projection like this?”
Terry Lombardi (R) said that financial discussions shouldn’t be done publicly. She compared the current fiscal crisis with a family’s financial struggles, and she compared the role of the BOE to her own role as a parent, shielding her children from unnecessary fear while the parents try to prepare contingency plans.
“We started to look at scenarios of ‘what if,’ and we didn’t share that with our sons or our families. But we knew we had to be prepared,” she said. “I do not want to scare people, but I think I have a fiscal responsibility.”
No action was taken on the letter. The BOE’s next scheduled meeting (Oct. 12) falls before the council’s Oct. 20 deadline.
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