At the end of a four-hour meeting Tuesday, the Board of Education had made about $200,000 in cuts to the superintendent's proposed $56 million budget.
They had talked about cutting from the same places they return to year after year, discussing scaling back technology improvements and whether to hold off on restoring Latin.
They talked about whether to cut teacher positions and the 27 positions that had been cut in the past few years, the effects of more students sitting in study halls, fewer electives for middle and high school students.
They talked about the target the Town Council had approved the night before and about budgeting philosophy.
Board member and teacher Melanie Meehan opened the discussion asking how the other members felt they should proceed in light of the target, which offers the board about $1 million less than the superintendent's budget requests.
About half a million of this year’s budget, the first in which the board sees relief from a with the town’s teachers union, is for technology improvements.
“We are just so far behind in technology that we’re making up for so many years of it not being funded at appropriate levels,” said Superintendent Kathleen Greider. “Other districts are putting wireless at all our schools and we’re just trying to get it at the high school and middle school. Students have to power down when they come here — it just doesn’t make sense. It’s holding the district back quite a bit.”
Ten-year-old computers limit students’ activities and the lack of modern equipment limits teachers, Greider said.
Another $550,000, of Greider’s proposed $2 million increase over last year’s budget, is for the equivalent of : 2 for math specialists, to teach teachers to implement a new math curriculum, 1.5 for early intervention reading recovery, .2 for a science specialist to help the district transition to new state science standards, 1.9 for special education positions based on student need, 1.2 at West Woods, 1.5 at Irving Robbins and 2.6 at Farmington High School.
Chairman Mary Grace Reed cautioned board members to remember their role in the process.
“Keep in mind that by state statute your responsibility is to send forward what you deem appropriate for the needs of your school district,” Reed said. “The role of the Town Council is a different one than yours… It is your judgment that determines what is in the best interest of your school district.”
She warned the board that if they presented a budget with less than what the district really needs, no one would ever know.
Meehan expressed concern about the targets.
“I think to come in at a 3.8 [percent increase] will be difficult to pass realistically. So I guess in my head I’m trying to think about realistically what we’re going to get from the council and what realistically we’re going to be able to pass in our town,” Meehan said.
Betsy Kaplan said it would be a disservice to the town to put forth something that doesn’t represent the district’s needs, especially in light of large curriculum changes like the district’s new goals, the new math curriculum, new science standards, new common core state standards and potential changes to Advanced Placement over the next two years.
“Big changes are being implemented despite four years of reduction. We need to put forward what’s in the best interest of our students… I believe we should bring forward what we believe we need and let the people speak,” Kaplan said.
Jon Landry said he was torn between a fiscal responsibility to the town and the needs of the district.
“There is a lot I want to get done and quite frankly don’t know how to do it,” Landry said.
Before the end of the meeting, the board continued to look at small cuts it could make, ending in a discussion of whether restoring Latin to the district would have to wait.
The board will meet again tonight at 7 p.m. in the library to continue discussion and take action on the budget.