.

Crafting a Budget for Every Trumbull Resident

Seniors and parents gave a variety of views at the first First Selectman's budget hearing, although no official numbers were released. First Selectman Tim Herbst will issue his budget proposal Feb. 9 to the Trumbull Board of Finance.

's education system was foremost on many residents' minds Thursday night, but they disagreed on all-day kindergarten and re-hiring computer paraprofessionals.

First Selectman Tim Herbst called the public hearing in Town Hall to fulfill a promise he made during his re-election campaign.

Parent Teacher Student Association Council President Lainie McHugh opened with a breakdown the Board of Education's proposed budget of $91.9 million, representing a 5.07 percent increase.

"I really caution people to make sure you really understand what you're looking at," McHugh said.

Specifically, she said:

  • 3.6 percent is for the core budget;
  • 0.5 percent is for restoration of cuts made last year;
  • And 1 percent represents the cost of implementing all-day kindergarten.

McHugh said it's difficult to compare Trumbull to neighboring municipalities because they are in different reference groups or have bigger budgets or lower enrollment.

The Case for Decreased Spending

Tony D'Aquila said "the cost of operating the town is much too high. Cost is becoming an overwhelming, unfair burden on seniors." He called for a third-party operational audit (rather than financial). The overall budget should be reduced with a decrease in taxes, he added.

Susan LaFrance said the Board of Education "abdicated" its responsibility by asking for more than the superintendent's proposed 4.98 percent increase. She called for an austere budget.

Carmen DeNicola said Trumbull parents should tighten their belts. He acknowledged that education is important but, "you don't need everything. you need the basics. It's good to be hungry a little bit."

Cindy Penkoff, an alternate on the Board of Finance, spoke as a parent and a resident. She urged people to look at the big picture and beyond the education budget.

Penkoff said most seniors are living paycheck to paycheck, while the town needs to spend money on high-cost items such as a new computer system for the Police Department by 2014 and elementary school renovations.

Everyone needs to be considered "whether they're 5 years old or 85 years old," she said.

Preserving the Ed Budget and All Day Kindergarten

Herbst said he favors all-day kindergarten, the cost of which was included in the school board's proposed budget.

Veronica Lenzen said of all-day kindergarten, "Now is the time to make this investment." But, she added, the school board said the program would be on the top of the cut list.

Many speakers said all-day kindergarten is needed to give students the proper amount of instruction time. They said half-day gives students about 90 minutes in total.

Jill Atherton said her son is in the program and will "lose everything that he's gained."

He didn't speak before entering the program, which serves nursery school age and younger to kindergarteners. "He's speaking. He can count to 50. He knows his colors and numbers," she said.

Eric Kudey said the benefits of all-day kindergarten won't be quantifiable for several years but that it will pay off in the end.

"We're behind the times," said parent Tracey Cleri, referring to all-day kindergarten.

One opponent called it "subsidized daycare."

Meanwhile, parents with older students also argued for the school budget. 

Larry Stowe, a former computer paraprofessional, said he hears that teachers are reluctant to send students to computer labs because they don't know how to troubleshoot the computers. Computer paraprofessionals were eliminated at the elementary level.

Other parents said schools are supposed to prepare students for college and a lack of technological skills could hurt their chances in the long run.

Also, teachers removed at the high school level resulted in fewer classes that could have improved students' chances to get into good colleges, parents said.

Striking a Balance

Both Herbst and Penkoff said they were alarmed at the number of foreclosures in the past several weeks, as many as 10. There have been about 90 in the past year, the officials estimated.

Penkoff said during her run for the Board Education last year she spoke to senior citizens who were afraid of losing their homes because of increased taxes. About 52 percent of the town's population are seniors, she said.

Herbst released some preliminary figures that will be included in the budget, such as $2 million in debt service from the Trumbull High School renovation and sewer work.

"If our pension fund does not improve, then our bond rating could be compromised," he added.

Complicating the process is a revaluation that brought down commercial values by 16 percent and residential values by 21 percent on average. But the commercial side could take on more of the tax burden, Herbst said.

"It's a very difficult balancing act. I think we can all agree these are challenging times," the first selectman said.

The Next Steps

Herbst is scheduled to present a budget to the Board Finance Feb. 9, and details will be available on the town website Feb. 10.

Another public hearing will be held in Town Hall on Feb. 15, and another at Trumbull High School Feb. 16. Both start at 7 p.m.

Departmental budget reviews will take place Feb. 21 and Feb. 23 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Additional hearings will take place Feb. 25 at and Feb. 27 if necessary. A Board of Finance budget vote is scheduled for March 13 at 6 p.m. in Town Hall. If the panel deadlocks, then the Town Council acts as the Board of Finance and holds its own discussions and votes at a later date. 

Pam Georgas February 04, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Personally, if I had a 5 year old right now, I would petition to opt out of the full day... and I am a working parent. You will never get that time back, to start your child out with the specific experiences you embrace. I think it is important at that age to experience/explore things outside of school, parks, libraries, community, beach, time with mom or dad, or other care taker etc. I am not convinced full day K makes any long-term difference in performance in wealthier suburban towns. Inner cities, is where I believe it would be more beneficial to have full day K.
Lainie McHugh February 04, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Joe, two separate questions need to be asked... Do we need full day K? Yes, from an educational standpoint, we have needed it for a long time! ... Can we afford it now? That's a better question... As an advocate of education, I believe that we should be funding the whole BOE request. If the Town of Trumbull can't financially support that, then a new program like full day K should be the first thing that is cut.
Fred DeLibero February 04, 2012 at 04:44 PM
How hurtfull. Just because I have a different opinion you want to run me out of town. All I'm saying is people with children in the school system should pay more taxes than senior citizens and people that do not have children in the school system .
Tom Pieragostini February 04, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Due to the increase in crime in Trumbull, I'd like to see the Police budget increased. What good will an increase in education spending do to maintain our property values when crime is rising?
Joe February 04, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Lainie, I am willing to consider the advantages of all day. Please make your case. Although, I think our schools are at the top of CT towns. We are not Greenwich or Westport, and I think costs will always be a consideration. If we are to truly function as a community, we have to consider the greater needs. Our town benefits from having both young and old, offsetting the costs of public education as well as increasing property values. We need to find balance. Our kids are already getting a superior education. Our discussion should include creative solutions to offset the cost of educating our children.
Tom Kelly February 05, 2012 at 11:39 AM
Keep in mind as you see the comparisons of percentage increases with other area towns that Trumbull's public school population has increased significantly over the past 10-12 years, while other school systems have been in decline. I saw a comparison of increase percentages with Monroe, and I looked at that town and saw that the number of projected students is down significantly in the last six years....down 4% last year and projected to decrease another 4% next year....down so much over the last 6 years that they were able to close a school. Then I saw someone compare Trumbull to Milford, so I looked there. Enrollment is down this year by 80 students and the projection is for continuing significant declines in student population. If you look at Trumbull, you will see that the student population at Trumbull High has increased by 30% in 10 years. Yes, THIRTY PERCENT more students at Trumbull High School! We have one of the largest and busiest high school campuses in the State of Connecticut. Trumbull currently spends about $1,000 per child, per year less than the state average, and there are more than 100 other districts in CT (there are 169 in total) which spend more per student than we do. These are facts. Taxpayers get an excellent value for their investment in education in Trumbull by a variety of measurements, and we can be proud of the performance of our system.
Kristy Waizenegger February 05, 2012 at 05:34 PM
I would also like to hear about Westport and Fairfield as well as all the other towns that requested much less than Trumbull - seems there isn't a town other than Trumbull taht requested over 5%. Help us to understand.
Kristy Waizenegger February 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM
What are all of these other towns doing differently? Can we reach out to towns like Westport and Fairfield to better understand how they are managing with increases that are significantly lower than ours year after year? We are the only town that asks for increases like this year after year and with all due respect it's really hard to understand why without thinking that there is something we could be doing differently.
Cindy Katske February 05, 2012 at 06:02 PM
For starters, Westport (a DRG A district) currently spends $17,001 per pupil, while Trumbull (a DRG B district) spends $12,474 per pupil. I suppose that it's easier to come in with a smaller request when you're already spending what many would consider a lavish amount of money. Westport also is experiencing a declining enrollment, while Trumbull's is stable. Westport has 5,770 students yet has a budget of over $98 million and its request would put it over the $100 million mark. Trumbull, with 7,010 students, has a budget of a little over $87 million. Not only is Tom correct that we in Trumbull are getting a great bang for our buck, but you're essentially comparing apples to oranges when you compare Trumbull to Westport!
Tom Kelly February 05, 2012 at 06:09 PM
We don't ask for higher increases than other towns year after year. If Trumbull did that, it would not explain how Trumbull spends in the LOWEST 25% of all towns in Fairfield County, and LOWER than the state average, with 107 of 169 communities in our state spending MORE per child, per year than Trumbull. It's seems that the GOP will never acknowledge these facts, even as they call for greater efficiencies. And what the BOE requests is really not relevant. Let's look at how much has been funded by the Town of Trumbull....Since Mr. Herbst took office, the BOE has RECEIVED a 1.08% increase, a 2.375% increase, and a supplemental appropriation of approximately $470K, while at the same time it has returned more than $800K in unspent monies to the town. The net of all this is an increase of slightly more than 3% since Herbst took office or about 1.55% each year. I think you will find that Trumbull has spent less than most other surrounding towns over the past two years, even though many of those towns experienced significantly DECLINES in student enrollment, which Trumbull did not have.
Joe February 05, 2012 at 07:04 PM
I think it's important to note both Westport and Fairfield have access to more tax revenue than Trumbull due to higher property values, commercial development and a percentage of its population who do not send their kids to the public schools. Although, this is less true for Fairfield in the past few yeard. It has been exponentially outgrowing it schools and seeing its taxes rise. Does anyone know how much if any, does the town get from the State of CT? What is the criteria for evaluating need?
Kristy Waizenegger February 05, 2012 at 07:21 PM
We are the only community asking for an increase in the 5% range - can we at least agree on that? I completely agree that here in Trumbull our students are getting an excellent education. Many people in our town have suggested things we can look at or consider doing differently. Unfortunately, at public hearings and meetings, these people are sometimes greeted with heckling from prominent members of our community and eye rolls from elected officials. Perhaps this year can be the year that we are all willing to at least be respectful, listen to each other and work as a community to find a balance. I realize there will ever be unanimous agreement on this topic.
Mark E Smith February 05, 2012 at 07:27 PM
We go through all this debating every years and the SAME issues are brought up by the same people over and over. In the end the ELECTED officials have to be PART of a process to make the best decision the feel is correct and RESPECT the process and outcome. We can talk and debate this over and over, however in the end three Boards consisting of 34 elected officials and one elected First Selectman come up with a budget. They were put there by the voters to do a job they expect, that is why they were elected there in the first place. I believe that the BoE did their job in the process and should now step aside and let the next part of the process take its coarse. In the end the Town Council, the legislative body of this town elected by the people will have the final say. I hope all those involved in the process will respect it and get on with their lives afterward. Mark
Tricia G. February 05, 2012 at 08:34 PM
Pam, you have made several excellent points, including necessity of maintaining the infrastructure and looking for creative solutions. (I believe that too often in the past, assumptions were made that paying the highest salaries for teachers and other school employees was necessary. That has in great part resulted in the fix we are in, of a high baseline.) But you've hit on the most critical element for "high student achievement," which is the FAMILY and HOME environment. The involvement of parents, and teaching and expecting their children to work, set goals, be accountable etc. is a necessary ingredient, and a big contributing factor to the success of Trumbull's students. No matter how great the school and teachers, most children are not going to grow up to be responsible, successful adults without the proper home life and parental involvement and follow-though. "It Takes a Family" (title of book by Rick Santorum), and no matter how many $$ are spent by taxpayers on government programs to try to repair the damage/neglect inflicted upon children by failed parenting--that approach is usually not very successful. Imo our nation needs to get back to promoting and incentivizing good traditional morals and family values, instead of incentivizing dependency and un-wed births, etc. While I am on my soapbox--I'll just add that the federal government has no Constitutional basis for interfering in education.
Tom Kelly February 05, 2012 at 08:42 PM
You are absolutely right, Kristy. And that increase percentage is driven once again by no decline in student enrollment. This is the wild card that so many Republicans will not acknowledge when they call requested increases "unconscionable." If Trumbull had a 4% decline in enrollment like Monroe, that would be a decrease of 280 students. That would amount to almost $1 million in reduced salaries and benefits...When Trumbull's enrollment starts to decline like the other area communities, I believe you will see much lower requested increases. Many of these surrounding communities have cut dozens of certified staff positions over the past few years...that IS the reason their requests are lower....do you think they are doing it with magic? Just look at the budgets...some school systems have been able to close schools due to lower enrollments....the same dynamic with enrollment is not happening in Trumbull, and it's one reason it's unfair to draw comparisons. Mark, you are right, and the same debate is going on in every town, not just Trumbull. I am not going to take the same approach as I have the past few years. Whatever the First Selectman and the Town Council decide to give, I am going to do the best job I can as part of the board to allocate it. I wish everyone well in the process.
Cindy Katske February 05, 2012 at 08:42 PM
I disagree that the BOE should step aside and let the next part of the process take its course. I believe that the BOE is an integral part of the entire process, and in fact the process does involve at least the BOE chair as well as the Superintendent and staff, who explain the Board's reasoning and conclusions with regard to the budget. There is no compelling reason why the BOE members should not defend the budget they voted for, and I believe that it would be a dereliction of duty if they were not involved in the rest of the process. That just makes no sense to me. I also hope that you are not saying that residents shouldn't be heard, since in your opinion it's the same issues being brought up by the same people over and over. Input from the community is of paramount importance as our elected officials make these difficult decisions. In addition, this year I am seeing a lot of new faces who are getting involved and advocating for what they believe in.
Cindy Katske February 05, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Kristy, I don't think you were at the First Selectman's public hearing on Thursday night, but everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. I wasn't aware of any heckling or eye rolling. I agree that we all need to act like adults, and I would add to your list of inappropriate behavior the Board of Finance alternate who actually applauded speakers with whom she agreed. To my understanding, there isn't supposed to be any kind of response--it's just a forum for residents to be heard.
HL February 05, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Mark, your point is fair. Obviously in the end it's going to be up to the elected officials. The "get on with your lives afterward" part is where it becomes tricky. For me, if I continue to see us fall behind other towns in terms of dollars per student and continue to see reduction of programs, eventually I may feel compelled to move to a town that is a better long term investment. The same is true of other families who care mainly about education when choosing a town. I understand people are looking for reduced taxes, and I sympathize. At the same time, I am not willing to watch a bait and switch take place. When we moved here it was primarily for the education quality in proportion to home price. It was a great bang for the buck. The fact I grew up here helped as well. But if the education budget keeps being chopped and attacked (especially by people with no long term interest in the town's education because it does not serve them), eventually the younger families with leave (or decide not to move here in the first place). They will migrate away to towns where they feel the balance of budget and education makes more sense for them. It is the younger families that help a town sustain life. House prices will slip further, and eventually the town will dig itself into a hole.
Mark E Smith February 06, 2012 at 12:46 PM
"There is no compelling reason why the BOE members should not defend the budget they voted for, and I believe that it would be a dereliction of duty if they were not involved in the rest of the process. That just makes no sense to me."... Cindy Katske You are right that is why I allowed Ms. Herbst a member of the Board of Ed. to speak to the Board of Finance last year during our budget meetings. However you, Lisa Labella and Tom Kelly among others disagreed loudly. Why has your view change in one year? "I also hope that you are not saying that residents shouldn't be heard, since in your opinion it's the same issues being brought up by the same people over and over. Input from the community is of paramount importance as our elected officials make these difficult decisions. "...Cindy Katske Sure I hope people stand up and speak their mind and get involved. My context of my comment is that I can go back into the online archives of this site and TrumbullChat and copy and paste the same statements from the same people with little change. " In addition, this year I am seeing a lot of new faces who are getting involved and advocating for what they believe in.".... Cindy Katske Yes I am too, many of them are newly elected members of the Board of Finance and the Town Council.
Mark E Smith February 06, 2012 at 01:00 PM
"For me, if I continue to see us fall behind other towns in terms of dollars per student and continue to see reduction of programs, eventually I may feel compelled to move to a town that is a better long term investment. The same is true of other families who care mainly about education when choosing a town."...HL HL, So you moved to this town because of the amount of money spent on Education? There are a million stats out there that say that there is NO correlation between the amount of money spent on education and the quality of education provided. Just look at Bridgeport. ".... At the same time, I am not willing to watch a bait and switch take place. When we moved here it was primarily for the education quality in proportion to home price."....HL What bait and switch? Show me where our education system has broken down. More children are graduating than ever before to better Universities. Better and sustained high test scores, no loss in sports or Music or Theater. So has system broken down? The voters of this town seem to like the approach and management of this administration. " eventually the younger families with leave (or decide not to move here in the first place). They will migrate away to towns where they feel the balance of budget and education makes more sense for them."...HL Do you really think young families can afford to live here now, even at these prices? "Eventually" is already here. Look at the migration history in CT. nothing has changed.
Tom Kelly February 06, 2012 at 01:31 PM
Mark, regarding allowing one member of the Board of Education, regardless of who that Board member may be, last year or in the future, to make an individual presentation to the Board of Finance, I wish to call your attention to relevant portions of the Connecticut Association of Board of Education (CABE) Code of Ethics for Board Members: • I will attempt to confine my board action to policy-making, planning and appraisal, and will help to frame policies and plans only after my board has consulted those who will be affected by its actions. • I will arrive at conclusions only after discussing all aspects of the issue at hand with my fellow board members in meeting. I will respect the opinions of others, and abide by the principal of majority-rule. • I will recognize that authority rests only with the whole board assembled in meeting, and will make no personal promises nor take any private action which may compromise the board. • I will acknowledge that the board represents the entire school community, and will refuse to surrender my independent judgment to special interest or partisan political groups. I will never use my position on the board for the gain of myself or my friends. In the situation last year, you allowed a BOE member who refused to participate in two meetings of the Board to make her own presentation to the BOF. I believe that is a dangerous precedent. Would you have allowed me to make a similar presentation of my own views?
Cindy Katske February 06, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Mark, I agree with Tom K.'s response (below). The situation you describe was, to my mind, not one in which a BOE member was defending the BOE budget. In that case, a BOE member had deliberately skipped BOE meetings at which the BOE voted on information to present to the BOF, and then proceeded to make her own independent presentation to the BOF. I do not believe this was fair to the other BOE members who had attended the meetings and done their job. At the very least, you should have offered each of the other BOE members the floor, but even that would not have been an appropriate way to handle the situation. It was an unfortunate lapse of protocol, and one that I hope will not be repeated. Given that I believe that this particular incident was improper, I think you will find that I have not changed my view in the slightest. I also don't think it matters whether you can cut and paste comments from last year. We continue to face many of the same issues, although last year we had funding cliff issues and this year we have the challenge of attempting to add a major initiative in the form of full day kindergarten. Last year we had an attempt to move the BOE health insurance fund from the BOE side to the town side of the budget, while this year we have a committee, which I believe was formed too late to have any effect on this year's budget (why the delay if this was so urgent last spring???), examining how to make it happen. I think the issues aren't exactly the same.
Cindy Katske February 06, 2012 at 02:48 PM
And finally, the new faces to which I was referring are those of residents, not elected officials. Yes, there are newly elected officials on both sides of the aisle, and of course they will have their say as part of their duties, but there are even more regular folks out there who are speaking up. It's a great thing for our community when people take the time to notice what's going on and participate. There are all too few, in my opinion, and the more that participate, the better.
Joan February 06, 2012 at 03:20 PM
"There are a million stats out there that say that there is NO correlation between the amount of money spent on education and the quality of education provided. Just look at Bridgeport." -- Mark Smith I'd say there are many, many other factors that come into play there besides just the amount of money spent on education. This appears to be a gross oversimplification of the facts. But you are right in one respect--Trumbull spends less per pupil and gets better results than other school districts within our DRG. Kudos to our teachers, parents, students, and Board of Ed. Let's continue to support them rather than making their job even harder.
Mark E Smith February 06, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Mrs. Herbst is also a citizen/taxpayer of Trumbull who happens to have a long and successful career in education. Tell me Tom how she didn't qualify to talk in front of a public meeting? Like all meetings we on the BoF allowed anyone who wants to speak that chance, just like I let you Tom (and Lisa LaBella) stand up at that very same meeting to discuss issues and I allowed you after the we closed the meeting for Public comments. I ask you where did she "...compromise the board"? The prerogative goes to the Chairman and such I felt anyone who could add value, commentary and insight our BoF budget meetings should be allowed to speak. The moment we squelch elected officials from discussing it with other Boards and Commissions is the moment Trumbull become less of a town. ALL information discussed in ALL meetings on ALL Boards is public information and should be allowed unabridged to be shared in any means necessary throughout the various town boards and commissions. BTW Tom, I think you might want to read your CABE ethics again before you judge anyone yourself.
Thomas Tesoro February 06, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Isn't all of this very interesting. At the BOF last year Andy Palo was roundly criticized and then punished for not meeting with his fellow Republicans. When Mrs. Herbst did the same not a single word of criticism....unbelievable Republican double standards. As an elected Member of the BOF I like to hear what everyone, including Mrs. Herbst had to say. But please, with all this spinning done by our Republican friends I can understand why their comments seem so dizzy. Nevertheless,the BOE, this year, did as I expected, they did their jobs. They reviewed the funds needed to meet the promises made by the Republicans, yes, the Republians and put forward their number for review. Remember, it was the Republicans who negotiated the back end loaded contracts (remember the FS called it a home run). It was the Republicans who made All Day Kindergarten their number one educational priority (twice). Now the bill is due and they complain. Republican doublespeak. 4+ percent of the BOE request is to fund Republican actions and promises. As a Democrat, I don't think those actions or promises were wrong. What is wrong is to shy away from the consequences of your own actions. Remember that when Republican apologists talk about foreclosures, struggling seniors and the like, they were struggling before they made those promises. The only people who are looking to abdicate their responsibility are the Republicans who now are trying to widh away the consequences of their own actions. Verysad.
Tom Kelly February 06, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Mark, rehashing last year's embarrassing budget debacle will serve no constructive purpose. The Republicans had the maximum majorities on each Board, and still couldn't effect a smooth budget process. I'll just say this and then I'll let you have the last word. The Board of Education didn't arbitrarily decide to create a list of what items would be cut if the budget request was not granted. YOUR Board of Finance of which YOU were the Chairman asked the Board of Education to comprise this list. If the BOF didn't want to the BOE to comprise this list, it would have been a simple matter to vote down the request and then it would not have been made. But you didn't do that. Your Board asked for it. And so we met twice to comprise this list, once in special session and once in regular session, and two members of the BOE did not attend either meeting. One was quoted in the newspaper as saying it was a waste of her time. You then gave that member an individual presentation to the BOF and you stated that no other members would be allowed to speak or comment on that presentation. The comments we made during that session were later and were related to other questions your Board members had, and unrelated to that presentation. I hope that this year's budget process will go more efficiently and smoothly. But you will see that I will not be so vocal in calling for a specific dollar amount or percentage increase this year.
Thomas Tesoro February 06, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Final thought. The BOE did their job and they deserve credit not nonsensical condemnation. Now it is time for the FS, the BOF and the TC to do their jobs. This annual attack on the BOE is predictable and old. It is divisive and unnecessary. Using the suffering and struggles of some of our Citizens for political gain is unseemly. It begs the question if you are so concerned, other than talking about it, what are you proposing to do about it? Raising taxes at a slower rate than in the past does not address the problem.
Lainie McHugh February 07, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Tom is correct... for the last several budget cycles we have discused that factors from outside of Trumbull drive the cost of education. For anyone interested in addressing the bigger picture, I believe it is CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) is sponsoring a "day on the Hill" Wednesday, March 14th at the Bushnell in Hartford. It's an opportunity to hear educators, legislators and Board of Ed members discuss critical legislative issues that impact our local budgets.
Joan February 07, 2012 at 02:17 AM
She did not speak as a private citizen/taxpayer. She spoke as an elected member of the Board of Ed and as such, she went against the ethical standards set by our state's Boards of Education. It is all very clearly spelled out in the code of ethics above.

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