After weeks of discussion, the Newtown Board of Finance sent the town's municipal and education budgets to the Legislative Council Wednesday night -- the latter with a recommended $750,000 cut that board members said could prevent larger problems for schools in the future.
The Board of Education had asked for a 6.26% increase to fund sought-after goals, including unarmed school security and full-day kindergarten. Along the way, school officials hoped to address maintenance, staff and technology issues they said had been neglected for too long. But at Wednesday's meeting, finance officials told the board some of those might have to wait.
"The more we add now, the more pain we're going to have later," said finance board member Joe Kearney. "I believe this allows for full-day kindergarten -- with some adjustment. I think it also allows for [unarmed security] in the main -- with some adjustment."
The cut reduces the education budget to a 5.5% increase from the 2012-13 budget, down from the 6.26% increase proposed by the board in February. At that time, board members said it was time to get schools back on track with their seven-year technology plan and to "play catch-up" on building maintenance.
"We've reduced it in the past years down to basically nothing," said chair Debbie Leidlein at that time.
The Board of Finance took four tries to find a number a majority could agree on. The first attempt at a proposal, from Richard Oparowski, called for a $1.5 million cut. Other numbers put to a vote: $1.164 million from Kearney and $650,000 from Carol Walsh. The $750,000 figure, proposed by chair John Kortze, passed, with Oparowski and Kearney opposed.
During the meeting, officials put the board's request under scrutiny, questioning costs in areas like enrollment, school maintenance, technology and requests for additional staffing.
"When a good chunk of [school security] is on the town side, and we're looking at a Board of Education request in the area of 6%, I think these are valid questions," said Kortze.
"Now it's so much more important that the voters vote in favor of this budget," said Leidlein after the meeting. "We have a level we can work with. But it's going to be critical that voters support this budget as it moves forward, in order that we can accomplish what we need to accomplish ... If they don't, we'll have to make difficult choices."
Leidlein said she wasn't sure whether the board would adjust the budget immediately or wait until numbers from the Legislative Council or the voters of Newtown reach their desks.
"We haven't had that conversation yet," she said. "I think we're going to have to look at the recommendations the Board of Finance made ... We as a board are going to have to discuss them and decide if that's where we want to make changes, or if we'll look at other areas."
Town Budget Passes With Increase
After cutting funds in some areas, including fuel, the board approved a town budget with a recommended $529,210 increase, according to finance director Robert Tait. The number includes The board also recommended a $1,600 raise for Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe and a $1,000 raise for Captain Dan Rios.
A misjudged point of meeting procedure affected private schools. The board voted Monday to establish a $180,000 one-time grant to fund security Newtown's three private schools -- or $60,000 per school. During the meeting, Kortze announced that, because of a misunderstanding, that vote was invalid -- meaning private schools will receive $10,000 less than they had thought after Monday's meeting.
In total, officials recommending cutting $210,678 from budgets at the Board of Finance level, leaving two budgets that stand at more than $110 million combined. Per charter, the budget now moves to the Legislative Council. The council's Administration and Finance Committee will meet Thursday night to review the budget, according to their agenda.