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Board of Education Votes For 6.26% Budget Increase

Amid support from security-minded parents, the board voted unanimously on a budget -- slightly reduced from the original proposal -- that adds security staff, among other changes.

 

The Newtown Board of Education unanimously approved a budget Tuesday night asking for a 6.26% increase in the 2013-14 fiscal year -- a slight drop from Superintendent Janet Robinson’s proposed 6.54% increase, but still higher than the comparatively modest budgets of past years.

“We’re standing behind this budget. This is the budget we want,” said Board of Education chair Debbie Leidlein. The total -- $72.84 million, down from Robinson’s proposed $73.04 million – will still find room for at least one addition. Before the budget passed, the board added four more security guards to the Superintendent's budget, at a cost of about $82,000, to the existing eight in the budget.

“We have to secure our buildings 24 hours a day,” said board member William Hart. “Whatever we have to have for security people, we need to put that in our budget.”

Newtown currently employs four security staff, according to officials. Hart said he’d like to see a total of sixteen – two for each school, or enough to staff schools with at least one guard from morning to night.

Parents, including many PTA members, have pleaded with the board to “do what has to be done” when it comes to security.

"It’s going to be a hard year to pass the budget," said parent Michelle Hankin, addressing the board. "But parents will advocate for you. Parents are very passionate about their schools ... We’re standing behind it because this is what we need. We can help to get people behind it."

Hankin and other parents who supported increased security measures promised to stand behind the budget at future meetings as long as the board is clear about its goals.

Another hard-sought opportunity for increased security, counseling for students and other services may be fairly near to coming to fruition. School officials are persuing a grant through Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence), a program that provides funds to help school districts recover from violent or traumatic incidents.

While a typical SERV grant covers about 18 months, she said, the school is asking for a four-year grant. Officials expect to submit the grant within the week, and expect a response could come in a matter of weeks.

"It sounds like it could be a pretty quick turnaround," Robinson said.

"I See This As Just Playing Catch-Up"

At the same time, the board voted to reduce the original estimate’s building maintenance budget by $250,000, albeit hesitantly. Board members said they regretted putting off "so much for so long that our school systems are in a sad state of repair," according to board member Richard Gaines.

"We've reduced it in the past years down to basically nothing," said Leidlein, who initially proposed a $400,000 reduction. Leidlein said she hoped to see funds spread out over several years for building and maintenance projects.

Members pointed out that many other parts of the budget were essentially untouchable due to contractual requirements or other factors.

“This is pretty beefy,” said board member Cody McCubbin just before voting in favor of the budget. “This is pretty huge. But last year -- that was pretty low. I actually see this as just playing catch-up. A million bucks of this -- way more than a million -- we have to spend no matter what, because of contractual obligations. We have absolutely no choice. It would have to go up either way.”

Comparing the 2013-14 budget to previous years puts the phrase "playing catch-up" in context -- 1.16% in the 2011/2012 fiscal year, or the 0.57% increase in 2012/2013. Officials have said repeatedly the comparatively large number this year was necessary to make up for areas not covered in previous budgets. Goals this year included full-day kindergarten, NEASC preparation and increased graduation requirements.

Business director Ron Bienkowski will prepare the budget for its next stop, the Board of Finance. According to town charter, the finance board must receive the budget by February 14.

Bruce Kraemer February 06, 2013 at 03:07 PM
6.26% increase is crazy. How many referendums and at what cost will it take to wear the town this year?
philip palilla February 06, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Good luck on passing this one...put a weapon inside the school with individuals who know how to use it. What happens, God forbid, when the guard is shot and the perpetrator knows he is safe. Be realistic, just think if the pilots were armed on 9/11, not after the fact. We seem to have this mentality normal individuals can't be responsible with guns and PREVENT sad tragedies.
Out Door John February 06, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Good for the BOE! As stated by one other comment, at least we know where this BOE is going and know they will watch expenses very close. As for the security, in this day and age protection is needed where ever you go. Business units have security, as do many other areas where many people congregate. Schools should be no different! Think of this security as you do your car and homeowners insurance, you pay for it even though you hope it will never be needed! As for full day kindergarten we all know of the private FDK offered but ask parents of small children whether they would like their child in a private FDK or if they would like to begin the process of integrating their child into the wonderful world of Newtown Public Schools. Hopefully right minded people will understand the need to approve this budget the first time around! If you don't like it, then by all means please ask the question or comment in person and not just hiding behind the Patch Blog!
Thomas Crafts February 06, 2013 at 06:19 PM
New budget formula: Figure out this years decline in enrollment, subtract from 100, multiply by last years budget, adjust expense accordingly.
David Freedman February 06, 2013 at 06:21 PM
Out Door John - all good points and appreciate your responses. I am advocating for security so that is a none issue. As for hiding behind Patch - i have no problem coming out to speak to the Board and address my concerns as I have done in the past. But based on the School Budget Development calendar i have there is not another forum to discuss with the Board of Ed. However, there is a forum to discuss with Board of Finance and Legislative Council and next Public Hearing is February 21st. Looks like I will have to go to the BOE directly.
Newtown Taxpayer February 06, 2013 at 06:39 PM
On top of a proposed 2% for the town side we are looking at @8% increase. I for one cannot afford these types of increases and truly as a parent I'm not convinced it is all necessary.
carlistojoe February 06, 2013 at 08:09 PM
Totally agreed. BOE is living in a dream world. The concern is by splitting the budget this year, the education budget will pass. If they want more money, do what the rest of us do. Cut expenses. Get rid of one of the assistant principals at the High School. Merge the education and town. Why are they separate? Have one AP. One Payroll dept. One HR. Give me a break, Leidlein must GO!
Bob Attanasio February 06, 2013 at 08:11 PM
You cannot add the two together. The net of the two will be something less than the higher number.
James February 06, 2013 at 08:54 PM
this is a disgrace that this town is using the horrible tragedy in sandy hook, to now do a money grab. Again I don't know of many in teh private sector who have gotten a raise and many have seen bonuses and extra benefits cut to the bone. Now we are looking at 10% increase in our budget. We have enough police staff to monitor all the schools in Newtown, at this point why do we need to hire armed security or is it more important to catch speeders on rte 25 then it is to protect our children.
onceuponanewtown February 07, 2013 at 12:31 AM
Where is the "love" for the taxpayer? (You can't compare a % from year to year because the base amount has been increasing exponentially. Taxpayer salaries are not seeing these increases and haven't for years!)
Michelle Ku February 07, 2013 at 03:29 AM
IF both the town and the BOE budgets go through to the voters "as-is," the tax increase would be about 4.75% (not 8%) It's not a matter of simply adding the two % increases. The BOE budget is about 2/3 of the total budget and the town is about 1/3 of the total budget. So, 2/3 of the budget would increase by 6.26% and 1/3 of the budget would increase by 1.9%..........or a total of 4.75%
Claudia Cooper February 07, 2013 at 12:30 PM
Sadly, not much has changed in my financial situation since last year this time. Since a 2009 layoff, I am still struggling to make ends meet. I'm working a p/t job making $12 an hour and do work on the side, anything I can.. As a homeowner with all the usual bills, this just isn't cutting it. Perhaps I speak for more than just myself when I say, I can't afford an increase in taxes. And while the recession may be officially over according to statisticians or economists, I can tell you, it's not over in my household.
Paul Alexander February 07, 2013 at 12:49 PM
The trend in annual budget increases and the cumulative effects of this compounding liability on the taxpayer is unsustainable, and especially odd in a declining enrollment environment. The way it appears on its face is that the POLITICIANS who make up the BOE are more afraid of appearing unsupportive of the school system in light of December 14th than they are afraid of their obscene budget being rejected by multiple referenda. Time will tell.
Thomas Crafts February 07, 2013 at 01:05 PM
Newtown public school graduate.
Sam Mihailoff February 07, 2013 at 06:28 PM
money, money, who's got da money...NOT I, said the taxpayer from the Hook I cannot support such an increase...nothing more to discuss or debate NO MONEY = NO VOTE
Big Family February 07, 2013 at 07:54 PM
I am ready to have an increase to the school budget for the cost of keeping all the schools safe (armed security). I will not be shaken down (and you know it's coming) by people submitting the idea that if we don't support this budget that we don't support the families of SHES, no matter how subtly they try to do it.
Paul Alexander February 07, 2013 at 09:08 PM
Vote NO, repeatedly. Two years of tax revolt is a trend the BOE won't be able to ignore...if they wish to remain in office.
Paul Alexander February 07, 2013 at 09:11 PM
I am speculating that the BOE probably did not want to support the obscene budget request submitted by the Supe, but the BOE felt they had a gun to their head in light of 12/14. The BOE needs political cover to lower the budget that only the taxpayers can provide...by voting NO on the initial referendum.
Thomas Crafts February 07, 2013 at 09:33 PM
Nothing subtle about 6.26%. Why waste a perfectly good tragedy, right?
yoda February 07, 2013 at 11:32 PM
She has gone mad!!!! JR on TV knocking our kids singing for others?? JR that is NOT what I am paying you for!!!!!!
Freddy February 08, 2013 at 01:28 AM
James - if you think a 1.9% increase in the town budget and a 6.2% increase in the school budget = a 10% increase in the budget, then you should be barred from voting.
Sam Mihailoff February 08, 2013 at 04:35 AM
http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/newtown-sandy-hook-school-shooting/hc-newtown-choir-controversy-20130207,0,2022250.story
Veritas vos liberabit February 08, 2013 at 04:55 AM
Skipper, r u up in arms over Flori-duh's obscene educatin spending increases? Do you post on your local Patch? In Turnaround, Governor Wants to Spend in Florida By LIZETTE ALVAREZ Published: January 31, 2013 MIAMI — Up for re-election in 2014 and still deeply unpopular, Gov. Rick Scott announced the largest proposed budget in Florida history on Thursday — $74.2 billion, or $4 billion more than last year — and said he wanted to sharply increase education spending. As his budget centerpiece, the governor proposed raising teacher salaries across the board by $2,500 a year and dedicating $1.2 billion more to public schools. The increase would give Florida schools the largest budget ever, the governor said. Mr. Scott said his other priority was to spur manufacturing jobs by eliminating a sales tax on equipment. Underscoring his transformation from Tea Party booster to political realist, Mr. Scott, a Republican, also proposed budget increases for the environment and the state’s university system
Les February 08, 2013 at 05:30 AM
There is NO WAY I will support this proposed budget! The Superintendent and the BOE appear to be out of touch with the reality that many of us in this Town are struggling. I agree with DZF on the full day kindergarten; it is unnecessary. To cut spending, can we close the library early one evening per week? Can we cut the park and pools hours slightly? Can Town and BOE office hours be cut by 15-30 minutes a day? Are we combining Town and BOE positions and cutting all positions that are not absolutely necessary?
Michelle Ku February 08, 2013 at 03:13 PM
The Board of Education has made it clear that they are managing the district and superintendent with a microscope. To cut costs has been the driving objective of several of the BOE members, and they have dedicated countless hours to reviewing this budget (have you looked at it?). Newtown’s school district is one of the most cost-effective districts in the state – we spend less per pupil than 143 towns in the state, AND our students score incredibly well on standardized tests. The reality is there are new state mandates that must be addressed and we can't continue to allocate 0$ to building improvement.
Paul Alexander February 08, 2013 at 03:23 PM
Read this carefully… “In what critics are seeing as an ultimate power grab, state officials in Connecticut are pushing forward a bill to require state investigations of children like never before – calling for a “confidential behavioral health assessment” of every public school student in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, and every homeschool student at ages 12, 14 and 17.” “The proposed Bill 374 is being described as the ultimate home invasion.” …and the People’s Democratic Republic of Connecticut goes further down the rabbit hole. More people will leave.
Paul Alexander February 08, 2013 at 03:27 PM
Unfunded state mandates should be IGNORED.
Rebecca February 15, 2013 at 03:36 PM
All this and they want to re-ignite a rift with your Superintendent who has had to manage a major, unprecedented crisis that compares to nothing most educational leaders are trained to do. I would rein in this Board especially the Chair who has wasted time on fueling an attack on the Superintendent at the expense of being focused on the needs of traumatized staff and students.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com February 15, 2013 at 09:05 PM
Well said Rebecca. The BOE's behavior is putting the kids and the school budget at risk. Grudges are really just a debilitating disease.
yoda February 16, 2013 at 10:46 AM
"I have nothing to tell (the board)," Robinson said. "I'm not talking about this." Hey, This DOESN'T sound like our Superintendent!!! The world has gone mad!!!

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