Following Tuesday's , the Newtown Legislative Council Wednesday slashed $1 million from the Board of Education and scheduled a second referendum for May 15.
Council members and members of the public said Tuesday’s budget referendum defeat was a surprise because of the relatively high voter turnout, not because they expected it to pass.
The Registrars of Voters reported that the vote was 1,962 yes and 2,560 no, a margin of 43.4 percent to 56.6 percent with a voter turnout of about 28 percent.
The budget has been defeated with a larger voter turnout, but never on the first round of voting. In 2010, when it took three tries to pass the budget, the voter turnouts for the first two rounds were 24 percent and 29 percent. It finally passed with a 31 percent turnout.
Nevertheless, several of the council members and town residents who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting read the tea leaves to say dissatisfaction with the Board of Education budget was the cause of this week’s defeat.
"I believe the voters spoke loud and clear," said Board of Finance member Richard Oparowski, a phrase several others repeated.
If passed by the voters, the new proposed budget would still mean a tax increase, but only .31 mills more rather than .
The dissatisfaction was over the apparent reluctance of school administrators to explain why the school budget had to go up while school enrollment went down, a complaint that was raised earlier in the budget process.
But the proposed $1 million cut might jeopardize plans to initiate townwide all-day kindergarten next year. A measure of that initiative’s popularity could be seen in the reluctance of anyone to speak out against it.
The Board of Education wasn’t without supporters at the meeting. Several parents and one great-grandparent pleaded against a school budget cut that could shelve all-day kindergarten.
Jean Klein, a retired reading specialist who volunteers in her great-granddaughter’s kindergarten class, said establishing all-day kindergarten is essential for improving education in Newtown. "Whatever cuts are made, I hope all-day kindergarten is not among them," she said.
That prompted Legislative Council Chairman Jeffrey A. Capeci, R-3, to note the Council does not have control over how the Board of Education spends its budget.
Several council members place the blame on School Supt. Janet Robinson, who they said has lost credibility with town taxpayers. Mitch Bolinsky, R-3, blasted Robinson for not attending the meeting, and Mary Ann Jacob, R-2, said the Board of Education should replace the superintendent.
A motion to increase the school budget cut by another $200,000 failed by a 7-4 vote, and a motion to reduce the cut to $666,000 did not receive a second. The main motion, for the $1 million cut, then passed 10-1.