The Board of Finance approved a Board of Education budget of $98,975,770 on March 27—a reduction of $1,241,086 from the BOE’s request.
The motion to approve the $98.97 million budget passed, 4-2, with Tony Morrison (R) and Sue Zoni (D) voting in disfavor. That motion came after a motion to approve a $98.69 million budget failed, 2-4.
The BOF-approved budget for the BOE 2019-20 fiscal year is an increase of $3.14 million, or 3.28 percent, from the current budget.
“I will be voting against this because I do think it’s too high at this point for a couple of reasons,” Morrison said prior to the vote. “With the situation at the state level, we have to husband all of our resources as much as we can over the next couple years. We’ve done it with the town, and I think we should do it with all services across the board.”
Morrison said he stood with the first motion, a 2.7 percent increase, in line with the steady 2 to 3 percent increases each year over the last 10 years of budgets. The general government budget, approved that same night at $54.8 million, sees a 0.39 percent increase from the current operating budget.
“We have protected education as much as we can, but I think we have to balance that with what’s happening at the state level,” he said. “Let’s not propose something in the 3 percent increase range.”
Both the BOE chair Brian Goralski (R) and Superintendent of Schools Tim Connellan spoke during public communication after the vote. Goralski said incremental change is an important part of education for students in the community.
“One of our responsibilities on the BOE is to maintain our buildings and bring those needs forward to the community,” he said. “Investment in education improves a community’s well-being and financial stability. One of the reasons we are a good town is because we invest in education, bringing business, residents and taxpayers to town and keeping youth in this town to be future leaders.”
Goralski said he accepted the reduction and trusts the BOF, but said he will defend the original budget request. “When we present to the council, I’m going to share why our needs are still legitimate and why the number we asked for is good,” he said.
Connellan said an “artificial barrier” has been drawn between the town and BOE, and he said from a statutory point of view the responsibility of education does not lie on the BOE—it lies on the town.
“Creating this division is not appropriate,” he said. “Last time I checked, my tax dollars fund everything—not one side or the other. I feel very strongly that our community values education, but recently we haven’t been valuing it enough.”
The superintendent said the town needs to continue to invest in education, otherwise the education system will be “irreparably damaged.”
“Education is expensive,” he said, “but if you think education is expensive, we should try ignorance. Ignorance is far more expensive in the long run.”
Along with the general government and BOE budget, the BOF approved the animal control fund, sewer fund, and five-year capital improvement plan that night. The impact of all five motions would be an increase of 0.39 mills or 1.3 percent.
The Town Council will hold a public hearing on April 22 at 7 p.m. at the municipal center on the budget the BOF has presented. The council will then make any changes they deem necessary, and adopt the budget on May 13. On May 15, the BOF will set the mill rate.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.