I’m a senior citizen. I thank you, school children of Trumbull.
If the Town Council agrees on Thursday, you’re going to give me money that could have provided resources Superintendent Ralph Iassogna and the Board of Education say are needed to restore some programs cut since the economy turned down.
Yes, First Selectman Tim Herbst and the Board of Finance cut your budget by $1.39 million. Then he set aside $1.2 million of that to give us seniors a Retention Bonus.
Only a couple of weeks ago Herbst told the Town Council Finance committee that he wants to help keep seniors in their homes rather than having us sell to young families whose children will enter our schools. Easier to manage the budget, he told the committee.
These bonuses are tax credits for every Trumbull homeowning senior citizen who makes $71,000 or less. Yup, $71,000
While the First Selectman has vocally supported All Day Kindergarten, his cut seemed to place this $873,000 program in jeopardy. Then Tuesday night the Board of Education “solved” the problem. Chair Steve Wright spoke from his heart at the education board meeting, saying they had worked long and hard and had reached unanimous agreement on budget allocations that satisfy the First Selectman’s budget.
His words were convincing, his face less so.
It seemed like the First Selectman had handed the board a fait accompli – next year’s program must include ADK, despite the cut. They had minimal leverage, so they did the inevitable. Then they sought to stick a smiley face on a sour deal.
Or perhaps they really fired a pre-emptive strike at Town Council, telling them they completed a painful process that includes ADK in the budget approved by the First Selectman, and that the council should accept their agreement.
How did the education board do it? First, they funded the Core Budget – simply replicating current year programs at next year’s contractual costs and projected enrollment (ADK aside, there are no new educational initiatives). Then they restored a few priority items cut during the last couple of years by applying funds to be saved by staggering start times for the elementary schools so fewer buses run the same number of miles.
To fund ADK they plan to apply a state statute that went into effect last year. It allows a Board of Finance to transfer unspent education monies, up to 1.0% of the year’s budget, into a “nonlapsing” fund for later use by the education board.
Last year the education board spent 99.5% of its budget. The maximum they can set aside this year is $874,448. So if they manage as closely this year they will be able to transfer only about half of what’s needed to fund ADK.
Making up a shortfall will mean further - and as yet unplanned - cuts. In the past it’s been done by reducing textbook and software purchases and by cutting curriculum writing – the very things students see in their classrooms and among the few fully discretionary items in the budget.
Only time will tell whether the 1% becomes a transparent reserve the board can draw on to restore priority cuts from previous budgets or whether it starts a death spiral in which the board of education gets pressed to under spend, then sees its budget trimmed because its savings are available.
So the schools cut, paste and hope while we seniors get our payout.
Thank you, children. We appreciate your generosity.