One of the largest Board of Education increases in recent history will head to the mayor’s office as the school board approved an 11.5 percent increase by a vote of 9-1 on Monday night.
The superintendent’s budget request showed an increase of 11.5 percent from $118 million to $131.6 million. School Board members kept the budget as is after threatening to add to it.
According to Interim Superintendent of Schools Ron Jakubowski, it is a budget that keeps it at a status quo due to contractual and other obligations. The only addition is a full-time grant writer to bring new funds into the City.
The lone vote against the budget was by board member Erin Stewart.
“Thirteen days to digest a $131 million budget is not enough time to be able to do our job,” said Stewart. “What upset me tonight is that I sat there and I was the only person who said lets cut the self-insurance fund in an effort to save “X” amount of dollars. No one made any attempt. It’s a lets pass it off as being someone else’s problem and not ours. That’s a mentality I don’t think is right. We need to do more as a board.”
Stewart said the board should give the mayor something to work with rather than telling him that he should deal with it and the board will deal it once he is finished.
“Why would you pass the buck on a child’s education?” she said.
During the meeting, administrators showed statistics that showed class sizes were well above the norm.
Principals spoke about not having enough paper for printers or wax to clean floors in their buildings.
Board President Sharon Beloin-Saavedra once again spoke about a Universal Pre-School showing costs would be about $750,000 for 60 kids.
A change in all day kindergarten classes to have 20 students per class rather than 23 would cost about $2.2 million more. The number of students going to school in New Britain is also expected to increase.
During public audience various people spoke their opinions on the budget.
“To increase 11.5 percent during this poor economy is disastrous and disgusting,” said Ann Mikulak, former president of the Citizens Property Owners Association. “This budget is as usual inflated and needs transparency.”
Helene Groman questioned where the money would come from.
“Taxpayers are looking for an answer tonight before you saddle us with another $132 million,” Groman said.
Merrill Gay, director of the Early Childhood Collaborative, said that New Britain is making progress in third grade reading scores, but it is still second to the bottom in the state.
“I don’t think this is an outrageous budget,” said Gay. “I think it is actually a bare boned budget.”
He said this budget just keeps things where they are and fill holes.
“This is an unreasonable budget because of the burden it will put on the taxpayers,” said Nick Mercier, former New Britain Board of Finance and Taxation Director. “While it may be an 11 percent increase over last year’s budget, in terms of taxpayer contribution it represents over 35 percent increase in what the taxpayer will pay on education.”
State Rep. Robert Sanchez (25th) was in attendance and also spoke about what he was hoping at the state level.
“My expectation is to see extra money come to this school system at the state level,” said Sanchez. “We have a governor who made it an issue this year that the session was going to be based and focused on education. We are going to hold him to that.”
He urged teachers and residents to call the governor and tell him New Britain needs more funding.
The budget now will go to the mayor and the Board of Finance and Taxation committee to decide how much funds the Board of Education will receive before going to the Common Council for approval.
“The reality is we may not get it, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask for it,” said Beloin-Saavedra.
Mayor Tim O’Brien has said he would not flat-fund education, but did not say how much more the school board would be given.
The common council will approve a final budget in June. At that time, the school board will once again review the budget and make cuts or additions.