While the proposed budget was not on the Board of Education agenda when members met earlier this week, it was what a handful of residents wanted to talk about.
But in the absence of Ron Bienkowski, the school district’s business director, Chairman of the Board of Education Debbie Leidlein explained that residents could only speak about the budget after everything else on the agenda had been dealt with.
When that time came, resident Kinga Walsh referenced a letter written by Leidlein that called the proposed budget a "same services plan." Besides wondering how the budget could be cut and still be a same services budget, Walsh’s questions also touched on full day kindergarten.
“I don’t know what I am voting for,” Walsh said.
Leidlein, who offered to meet with the speakers after the meeting, said, “The information we are providing is accurate. This is a same services budget, but it is more efficient.”
Leidlein also said it was not yet possible to talk about the fate of full day kindergarten. “What happens if the budget doesn’t pass and we have to reduce it further? We can't make a decision like that without the budget in place.”
Newtown voters are hitting the poll at today to vote on the budget — for the fifth time.
Robin Fitzgerald, one of the four residents to speak at the BOE meeting — all of whom came in favor of increasing the budget — said, “I think there is a lot of information out there and the public doesn’t trust what is being said. No one knows what to believe. I personally don’t believe that you will be able to provide a same services budget. We started at same services and made a $1.7 million cut. What was it doing in there in the first place? You haven’t gotten the public’s confidence.”
Leidein responded that savings were found in contract negotiations, medical insurance, and a dramatic reduction in commodity prices. According to a sheet previously distributed by the Board of Education, one first grade teacher was eliminated early on in the budget process due to decreasing enrollment.
"When the Board of Education passed the budget, I made it clear there would be savings in transportation, electricity and insurance. The Board of Finance helped us find those savings, and helped us reduce our budget by $700,000 in those areas," Leidlein said in a follow-up interview with Patch. "We are working together with the Board of Finance all the time. That is one of their roles, to help us identify those savings."
Reached the day after the meeting, Board of Ed member Cody McCubbin explained why the budget was not on the agenda. He said, “Without Ron Bienkowski at the meeting to speak knowledgeably or to clear up misunderstandings, discussing the budget at the meeting could make the problem worse and more confusing for not having had all facts. The budget will be lean, but we have to work with the budget that is presented to us by the voters.”