The Voice

Sensible budget emerges from rocky road

Staff Editorial

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The district is one of the better-performing ones in the state and nation. Over the years, the district has received support from the Board of Education, Town Council and town voters. This year’s budget tells a similar story.

The reductions that were mandated by the Board of Education and Town Council provided some cause for concern. But the final budget that has been sent to be considered at the annual town meeting on April 25 is, in the end, a responsible one that deserves to be approved. That being said, the process by which it was reached deserves a hard look moving forward.

The initial 4.49 percent Superintendent’s budget did not have any reckless spending. Much of the increase was for special education, which is spending required by the state, and in salaries and benefits, which are required by the teachers’ union contract. Those two increases aside, there was little in the way of growth.

Many new programs, such as expansions of Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and Latin at the high school, are being implemented without hiring new teachers. The high school is, in fact, set to cut 2.85 full-time equivalent (FTE) teacher positions in anticipation of declining enrollment. Areas that are traditionally attacked as wasteful spending, such as administration, are already bare; the town is in the bottom tenth of Connecticut towns for administrative spending per student.

When presented to the Board of Education, the budget was placed under further scrutiny, and the proposed spending increase was reduced. These, however, were specific cuts. The reductions made to items like building repairs can be questioned, but the Board of Education made responsible decisions in voting to make specific, precise cuts.

The cuts the Town Council requested were, at the time, troubling. The Council appeared at times more interested in reaching a specific number – a 3.8 percent or a 4 percent increase – than in identifying what the real consequences of making these reductions were. At the time, there was some real cause for anxiety as to how these targets would be reached.

When push came to shove, though, the Superintendent and Board of Education came together admirably. Some cuts, such as holding off on buying a copier and restructuring summer school, are relatively minor. Others, like reducing funding for textbooks and reducing reading recovery, are not befitting of one of the wealthier school districts in the state. After all the debate, though, the Board respected Superintendent Greider’s professional opinion. This kind of responsible decision-making should be applauded.

This whole episode, though, does raise questions about the budgeting process. The Town Council did manage to challenge the Board of Education and got what it wanted – a fiscally responsible budget that wouldn’t unnecessarily burden taxpayers.

Budgeting is not an easy process and hard choices always have to be made. But the core consideration in school budgeting should be the core needs of the district. Preserving programs like reading recovery is every bit as noble a goal as fiscal responsibility, and they should be balanced conscientiously in budgeting moving forward.

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Sensible budget emerges from rocky road