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BOE, Flatto Take Cases to RTM

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ann Clark plead her case for a larger increase in the Board of Education budget at Monday’s joint meeting of the Representative Town Meeting Committees of Finance, Legislation and Administration, and Public Works. Her department asked for an increase of 3.5 percent for the coming school year. In his recommendation to the RTM, First Selectman Kenneth Flatto changed the increase to 1.5 percent.

Clark said that she needs to hire more staff for the next school year to meet contractual obligations with the teachers’ union. Maximum class sizes are defined by teachers’ contracts, and the Board of Education expects an increase in students. High schools and middle schools will have the most new students, and also have the highest per-pupil costs. Clark is already making cuts to the school’s budget to accommodate the new teachers’ salaries.

Clark told RTM members that her initial budget only covered increases that the school board felt were necessary. The board has already cut back music and art programs to save money. Some teachers are working limited hours, allowing the board to meet staff member quotas while saving money on salaries. The school board also does not expect to be able to make regular maintenance to school facilities unless necessary for safety reasons. “Unfortunately, we don’t want to affect these programs, but often we may not have a choice,” said Board of Education Vice-Chair Pam Iacono.

Flatto acknowledged that cutting education costs would be difficult, but said that budget problems were a concern in all town departments.  “We have the Board of Education here tonight,” Flatto said. “If we had the other departments here, we’d hear the same arguments from them.” Flatto added that, aside from the Department of Education, all other town costs not relating to public safety will see budget increases of less than one percent in his proposed budget.

The town’s biggest budget problem is its pension fund and health benefits for retired employees. The funds lost a lot of money last year due to market performance and Bernie Madoff’s acts of fraud. Claims made to both funds are also increasing, which costs the town more money. As a result, the entire government has faced financial difficulties.  “I’m not saying that [the board’s] aren’t noble requests,” Flatto said, “I’m saying that we need to be pragmatic.”

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