Members of the Legislative Council and Board of Finance joined the Board of Education and First Selectman Patricia Llodra Monday to urge voters to approve the town budget in a referendum next Tuesday.
"I strongly encourage people to vote yes on the budget," said Llodra at an informational forum on the budget prior to Monday’s Board of Selectman meeting.
Later, in an interview, she said it was the first time she knew of that members of all the boards responsible for the town budget met at a single meeting and voiced a unified message to the voters.
Llodra also warned that another round of cuts would bite into town services. "I am concerned that additional cuts would erode services and education," she said.
The about the budget to Llodra and members of the Board of Education, Board of Finance and Legislative Council. The questions were funneled through Newtown Bee Editor Curtiss Clark, who served as moderator.
The session lasted one hour before the regular Board of Selectmen meeting. Video of the forum will be available on the town web site and on local news media web sites.
The first question was the one asked most often during this budget season: why hasn’t the Board of Education budget gone down while pupil enrollment has gone down?
Board of Education Chairman Debbie Leidlein explained most of the enrollment drop has been in the elementary schools, but in order to cut staff there has to be a decline of 20 or more students in a single grade and school.
She said the Board of Education is also trying to make improvements at Newtown High School that were recommended by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in order to keep the high school’s NEASC accreditation.
Leidlein doesn’t know if all-day kindergarten can be implemented if voters approve the second budget referendum on May 15, but if they don’t she said the Newtown public schools probably would face severe program cuts.
The while leaving the town side of the budget intact for its second round budget proposal going to the voters next week, on Tuesday, May 15.
Clark asked the Council members how they came to that round number and whether they would cut more from the school budget if voters turn down the budget again.
Council Chairman Jeffrey Capeci, R-3, said he thought the 600-vote margin in the first referendum balloting on April 24 showed strong voter dissatisfaction that warranted a substantial cut from the Board of Education.
If the second referendum also fails, Capeci said he expects the next round of cuts would affect both the town departments and the public schools.
Another question asked if the $400,000 addition to the town’s fund balance, a reserve account also known as the "rainy day fund," might be cut instead of the school budget. Board of Finance Chairman John Kortze strongly recommended against it.
He said bond rating agencies want to see the town build up the fund balance account. Doing so might improve the town’s credit rating, making it cheaper to borrow money, but not doing it might have the opposite effect.
"This is one item in the budget that has a direct impact on each and every taxpayer," Kortze said.