By SHERIDAN CYR
Taxpayers of Southington flocked to DePaolo Middle School on March 20 for the Board of Finance 2018-2019 budget public hearing, which covered the general government and Board of Education budgets together as one entity.
BOF chair John Leary said the total budget request $150.2 million, which is $6.9 million more than the current year. The Southington taxpayer currently pays $5,300 per year.
After the Town Council receives the BOF recommended budget and approves it, the BOF then sets the mill rate, which determines the tax rate that needs to be applied to residents.
“The BOF exists to carefully review the budget and financial health of the town in conjunction with the needs and desires of residents and businesses while considering the health of the state and overall economy,” Leary said. “In a careful oversight process, the BOF will recommend the budget to the Town Council. And once they approve it, the BOF will set the mill rate.”
For perspective, Leary said the town would need 704 new taxpaying homes to cover the proposed budget increase.
Nearly all who spoke at the hearing commented on the BOE budget. Some were supportive of what the BOE had requested, some argued the BOE should be given more, and some argued the BOE should be given less.
One speaker, Dan Hart, told ‘a tale of two Southingtons.’ In one version of the town, businesses are growing, and the grand list is increasing in value. In the other version, Hart said that the town is underfunding schools and education.
Debbi Mauro said that “education has been on the short end for years.” She said the community should be helping each other when times are tough.
Jocelyn Alia, a mother of a young student, said schools need innovation and creative thinking, especially in the age where children are exposed to violence and destruction in their schools.
“Schools are a child’s second home,” Alia said. “For some, it’s their primary place for safety and social construct.”
A few residents commented on the per-pupil-expenditure rating. Southington ranks 154 out of 166 school districts in per-pupil spending. Residents commented that the grand list in Southington has continued to grow each year, but the per-pupil spending rank, they said, did not match that growth. They felt the town should be able to offer more to each student.
Kathleen Reilly told the BOF, “Raise my taxes,” arguing teachers do their best with very little. “It’s not acceptable to keep blaming the state.”
Principal of Derynoski Elementary School, Jan Verderame, said Southington takes great pride in the school system. “Our students are the future of our community and economy,” she said.
Fourth grade educator Robert Lalla said he wouldn’t want to work anywhere else, despite some accusations from others suggesting that if schools aren’t properly funded, educators would leave. However, he said, “We need support. We can do better.”
One resident, Alexandra Anderson, had a different approach from the majority. She compared the BOE budget to her own life as a young millennial mother, saying the BOE proposed budget features “bling” and other unnecessary requests.
“We need to do better at reducing waste,” Anderson said, asking the BOF to consider a “cleaner school system budget.”
The residents of Southington who spoke at the hearing ultimately showed an overwhelming support for a strong education system and structure for the community’s youth. It is up to the elected board members now to take in the responses they heard and move along on the budget calendar.
The BOF is scheduled to adopt the budget on March 28. A Town Council public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on April 23 at the Municipal Center. The council will adopt the budget on May 14, and the BOF will set the mill rate on May 21.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.