All-day kindergarten is now in the Board of Education's court.
The Board of Finance approved First Selectman Tim Herbst's recommended increase of 3.47 percent, which covers status quo and restorations of positions and items cut last year.
The Town Council has the ultimate approval of budget, totalling $146,636,946, but cannot add funding beyond the first selectman's recommendation. The school's portion is $99,949,283. The finance board shaved off $153,562 in total.
Now the school board must find funding for all-day kindergarten if it wants the program implemented, something Chairman Stephen Wright vowed to do, after calling the increase "wonderful."
"We owe it to the kids" to find a way to fund the program, Wright said. "How to do it is where the elbow grease will be needed."
He added that he didn't mean he believes the increase "will accommodate what the board believes is needed to do all that it would like. It means the board is prepared to move on through the budget process."
Finance Board member Thomas Tesoro opened the meeting proposing adding $873,000 to fund all-day kindergarten from the operating budget, bringing the board's increase to 5.04 percent.
Tesoro said he was one of the first democrats to support the idea of the program seven years ago provided there was enough space and the program would run in all town elementary schools.
"We're at the point where we have to make a decision. If you believe in it, you find [the funding]," he said."It's time for this board to put their money where their money where their mouth is."
It was rejected 3-3. He and fellow democrat Steve Lupien, and republican Andy Palo voted in favor. Chairwoman Elaine Hammers, Paul Lavoie and David Rutigliano, all republicans, opposed it.
Tesoro later added that the school board should not be blamed if all-day kindergarten was not implemented because it is the finance board that did not approve the funding. He said he didn't want to create any funding cliffs in paying for it.
"That means there will be no all-day kindergarten," he said after the vote.
But opponents of the motion said the finance board appropriates the money and the school board decides how to spend it.
"The decision rests with the Board of Education. They determine how they will spend their funds. We have always emphasized [that] it is their choice," Hammers said.
Added Lavoie, "I have a strong feeling there is so much they can do in their budget."
Tesoro replied that has overcrowded classes, more study halls and reduced staffing that need to be addressed first.
The final vote for 3.47 percent was 4-1-1, with Hammers against and Rutigliano abstaining.
Another motion from Tesoro, to add $20,000 in case of a referendum, failed. The referendum ability was approved in the Town Charter in November 2011 and has not been tested yet.
Code Red, Director of Children's Services and a Police Dog
Other items prompting discussion were:
- Increasing the Economic Development Director's salary to $95,000 a year. No one has been hired yet. It passed, while money was cut from an account funding economic development activities for the town. The new director can request funding though supplemental appropriations, town officials said.
- A second police dog, which was cut. Also, purchasing four police vehicles, which was approved. Hammers also noted that a dozen police officers are eligible for retirement at the moment.
- Funding for the town Animal Control Officer's office to cover summer weekends, which was approved.
- Additional funding for , which was not approved.
- Purchasing an emergency alert system called Code Red, which was approved at a cost of $19,500. It includes an option for seniors to get automatic calls daily. If they do not answer after two tries, police are automatically dispatched.
- No additional funding for the Youth Department. It had to cancel activities last year because of lack of funding, but this year that will not happen.
- Allocating $54,491 for a director of Children's Services, which Herbst did not fund in his budget proposal.
The Town Council Finance Committee will hold its own hearings next and vote in April.