Pleas from parents and employees of the made up much of the response to a proposed $83,092,657 fiscal year 2013 budget in a public hearing before the Appropriations Board on Monday.
Of this budget, $40,626,405 has been appropriated for the schools. The Board of Education , while Mayor Daryl Finizio proposed a . The figure and represents an increase over the current fiscal year of $809,001, with the expectation that this will be covered by additional Education Cost Sharing funds from the state of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed education reforms are approved.
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The committee also recommended transferring the district’s business office expenses to the municipal budget to free up funds to use elsewhere in the budget. The Board of Education .
According to estimates compiled by administrators at the district’s schools, a flat-funded school budget would result in the loss of 58.8 positions while 26 positions would be cut in the event of a three percent increase.
A group of these residents organized a press conference prior to Monday’s meeting and passed around green and gold ribbons signifying the colors of . Mongi Dhaoudai, who has three children attending the schools, said he thought parents and the governance councils present at three schools in the district should have been more involved in the budget process. Dhaoudai said inadequate funding will result in cuts to teachers and essential programs.
“We think this budget as it stands today does not reflect and does not say that education in the city of New London is a priority for this council,” he said.
Kathy Skrabacz, a member of the governance council for , said cuts will affect programs and staff related to literacy, art, physical education, and other areas. She said the cuts will have a deleterious effect as New London attempts to and prepares to be an arts magnet school.
“We are seeing academic improvement, and when you have more students in the classroom that is not going to help,” said Skrabacz. “So we need those teachers to stay in the budget.”
Jamelah Qadir, a teacher, reflected these sentiments when she spoke before the Appropriations Board.
“How can you tell me that you believe in kids, that you believe in education, and you will close any library in New London?” she asked. “Shame on you!”
Chris Sherman-Watson, who has two children in the school district, said he thinks the level of funding bolsters negative perceptions of the district and its students.
“It’s kind of sad to see that the City Council, with this budget, is jumping on that bandwagon of not thinking much about our kids,” he said.
Other public comment on budget
Some residents expressed their discontent with the proposed tax increase. Richard Humphreyville said he has contacted the Harvard Business School to have them consider making New London the subject of a case study. Humphreyville said he thinks the city contributes too great a share to pensions for municipal employees and that he considers taxpayers are already overburdened.
“The government cannot spend money that the taxpayers cannot provide,” he said.
Francois Curiel said he is working three jobs in order to pay taxes in the city and considers the municipal services to be “minimal.” He was critical of Finizio, saying he considered him an outsider.
“As far as I’m concerned, Mr. Mayor, you need to go back to where you came from and let people from here run this city,” said Curiel. “You are not welcome here.”
Bill Cornish, a business owner and former city councilor, said he thought the budget did not adequately detail some expenses. He also offered to purchase some city assets if councilors agreed to reduce the mill rate in return, saying the is worth $886,000 while a waterfront parcel is worth an estimated $1 million.
“That’s a serious offer, folks,” said Cornish. “I’m only going to make it once.”
Avner Gregory said 62 percent of New London’s population rents rather than owns property. He questioned whether the needs to be at its current staffing level and was also critical of the employment arrangements for municipal workers.
“We’re going to take from the renters to pay for the people who already have good salaries,” said Gregory. “We’re funding the elite.”
Susan Donovan said New London’s budget has involved a number of temporary fixes over the years and said this has led to a decline in the city’s infrastructure.
“No one ever wants a tax increase, but the hard truth is sometimes it’s necessary,” she said.
Response by councilors and Finizio
Council President Michael Passero said he did not consider the accusations that the council is flat-funding the schools to be accurate, citing the anticipating ECS dollars as well as the business office transfer.
“One of the things this council did with the Board of Ed is moved the business office, an expense of $536,000—a pure administrative expense—we moved that over to the city side to free up that money for our children, and for programs and for teachers,” said Passero. “And I didn’t hear one speaker acknowledge that. Nobody even seems to be aware of it.”
Councilor Anthony Nolan said it is not the council’s intent to harm the district’s students, and hoped the Board of Education would work to find savings in areas that would not have a direct effect on the classroom.
“The council is not cutting the teachers. That is not a direction we gave to the board,” he said.
Councilor John Maynard said he agreed that the district should look to the central office for savings. He also said the council needs to look at municipal benefits, but felt the police department needs more officers.
“Some of those officers do 16-hour shifts,” he said. “It’s too much on them, especially the work they do.”
Mayor Daryl Finizio said every city department is making cuts as a result of the council’s reductions to his original budget request of $87,111,948.
“If this budget is cut back any further, it will absolutely cripple the ability of our city departments to provide basic services, especially to those least fortunate in our community,” said Finizio. “We cannot allow that to happen.”
Finizio said the administration is also working to prevent a deficit in the future due to the low general fund balance. He also posed a question to the school administration after citing his decision to .
“Will you do the same before you lay off one teacher in your district?” Finizio asked.
Passero said the Finance Committee will meet on May 14, although a time and place have not yet been set.
Correction: the article originally spelled Avner Gregory as Abner Gregory and mistakenly referred to him as an attorney.