The Fairfield Board of Education voted to reduce Superintendent Dr. David Title's recommended $156 million budget by $342,417 Tuesday, passing forth a $155.8 million financial plan that carries a 4.6 percent increase-- or $6.9 million -- over the current fiscal year's $148.9 million budget.
The following changes were made to the recommended:
- A full-day kindergarten program will be implemented next school year for a projected savings of $157,000 since the district would no longer have to make mid-day bus runs to bring short-day kindergarten student home;
- Computer monitor replacements were delayed for a reduction of $70,760;
- Custodial fees for organizations that use school buildings will increase by 10 percent for a projected $10,000 in revenue;
- A $50,000 Food Service employees pension cost was moved to the Food Service program's self-sustaining budget;
- $21,588 in allocations for the middle schools and $33,069 in allocations to the elementary schools were cut. Allocations are used at the principals' discretion for costs like textbooks and field trips.
The vote -- which passed 7-2 with members Sue Brand and Perry Liu opposing -- came after several hours of deliberation about administration expenses and salaries, educational programs, and the board's role in the annual town-wide budget process.
Some board members and residents felt it is the Board of Education's duty to set the tone for the other town bodies and make cuts to the Superintendent's budget -- some of which could impact educational programs.
"We need to manage our own house before it's managed for us," Board of Education member Tim Kery said.
Pamela Iacono agreed and moved to remove a day a week of Grade 5 music class, which would have resulted in a $30,000 savings.
"The rationale is that we can pickup classroom and instruction time," Iacono said. "I'll stress again that we have to make reductions somewhere...this town is going to be asked to take serious actions. In little ways, we have to help."
The reduction of the music class did not make it into the approved motion.
Though several others options were discussed by the board -- including not restoring part-time help to keep the high school libraries open after hours and instituting the Pay-to-Play fee for sports -- some members of the public said it's not enough.
"All this discussion and you're talking about 1 percent of the budget," resident Seth Block said. "I really think you need to take a look at the whole budget and come back with 3 percent, 4 percent...and stop using our kids as fodder for your own mistakes."
Resident John Levinson pointed out there has never actually been a cut to the year-to-year school budget for some time and it's "a problem that's festering."
"We have a champagne taste in education, but not a champagne budget," he said, adding that redistricting is likely the most cost-effective answer to the district's challenges with space and resources.
Others felt the Board of Education members must defend the Superintendent's recommended budget and educational programs, and leave the cutting to the Board of Finance and RTM.
Member John Convertito made the motion to that began the conversation about which non-program changes to make.
"We're having a discussion that's extremely premature," he said, referring to talk of cuts to classes like World Language and the music.
"These are draconian cuts that serve no purpose in this discussion."
Resident Trudi Durrell told the board it's the members' job "to defend the budget."
"Either way, parents will have to pay -- whether it's in taxes, for sports, for school lunches, for parking...quality is a choice, and I really hope you will choose quality," Durrell said.
"It is our absolute moral and ethical -- if not legal -- imperative to educate our children," former school board member Helen Dodson said. "Do you really want to be the Board of Education that cut education, who made poor children pay to play sports with their wealthier friends?"
Resident Mary Hogue agreed.
"Be advocates for education, not for finance."
The budget will next go to the Board of Finance for further discussion and possible reductions. The Board of Education will receive the final budget after the RTM vote in May -- should further cuts be made, the board will have to decide how to shape the budget around them.
For more discussion, see the videos attached to this article.