The scene at this past Thursday (April 26) was much quieter compared to last year's education budget hearing.
Absent were the many supporters who came out a year ago to lobby for increased funding in schools. In fact, when aldermanic president John Anglace opened the floor, the room fell silent until Superintendent Freeman Burr finally took the podium.
The is requesting $64,336,129 for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, an increase of .99 percent over last year's budget. In February, Mayor Mark a $113.4 million city budget that cut $500,000 from the BOE's request. However, Lauretti said he'd be willing to restore $285,000 "when and only when" the district rescinds its "pay to play" sports program.
Last month, the Board of Apportionment & Taxation of $113,118,710 while keeping a mill rate of 21.85, which is the what Lauretti had set in his budget message -- an increase from the current rate of 18.57.
Burr said BOE members were especially careful when drafting their budget, keeping in mind that this year the city underwent a property re-evaluation that caused a dip in the grand list. However, he stressed that "stability within the school system is extremely critical."
Burr said more than $650,000 in accumulated sick leave and more than $250,000 from eight retirements helped to offset costs. On the other hand, he reported that the teacher contract is in the second year of a three-year agreement, which means about $525,000 is needed for salary increases. Additionally, the BOE is requesting $200,000 for "program improvement" that includes updating the school system's technology; $75,000 from that pool can be used to lower fees for "pay to play."
"We have to make sure our students have the resources and opportunities to compete in the 21st century," Burr said.
Ron Pavluvcik disagreed with increased spending as a means to achieve this goal. He took the podium after Burr and predicted a "bleak forecast for our city's revenue," while suggesting the aldermen be particularly careful with this year's budget.
Pavluvcik said that although Shelton looks good from the outside, "there is a false sense of security." He noted that the city's three main developers are not currently working to add to the grand list: Robert Scinto is serving a home confinement sentence after being released from prison, James Botti is still in prison, and Monty Blakeman passed away in April 2011.
"This is certainly a good time to continue to be frugal," Pavluvcik said, adding he feels the mayor's BOE budget reduction numbers are appropriate.
"The infrastructure is in good place, we've spent a fortune on computers and electronic chalk boards--and still we see test scores not improving," Pavluvcik said. "Throwing money at the school system has not been the solution in prior years."
His recommendation for improving student achievement is to establish an online system where students, parents and teachers can track completion of homework assignments.
"I have talked to too many kids coming out of that who are not getting homework," Pavluvcik said. "I would like to see every high school teacher be required to post assignments online days in advance, so students can look ahead, plan for sick days, and parents can make sure the work is being done."
BOE member Arlene Liscinsky said she does not agree with Pavluvcik's remarks.
"Education is currently on assault at the state, national and local level. We have consistently done more with less. Our students have had to share the burden of what's happening in the economy," she said.
Anglace thanked the speakers and said the Board will consider their remarks carefully while adopting a budget for the 2013 fiscal year. The aldermen are scheduled to propose and pass a new budget by May 15.