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Thank You, School Children of Trumbull

Trumbull's Board of Education unanimously approved budget allocations meeting the cap imposed by the First Selectman. All Day Kindergarten will be funded by a hold back to be applied next year.

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

I Love Trumbull April 12, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Roy, Just like Mr. Buffett you have the option, as we all do, to pay more in taxes. While you may back handedly "appreciate the generosity" please let us know if you plan on giving back your bonus/tax credit to the children of Trumbull you care so deeply about.
Mitch Kelly April 12, 2012 at 08:38 PM
That is a lot of sarcasm and contempt coming from someone in a group that was given a campaign promise that was actually kept. ADK was promised as well and that was too delivered. I find it refreshing that TH is working to fullfill his campaign promises and not forgetting the people whom voted him back into office. In response to your op piece- I have a son in hdk now, and a daughter that will be in adk in two years. If my sons education is compromised moving forward due to a "death spiral in which the board of education gets pressed to under spend, then sees its budget trimmed because its savings are available," you will be the first person I come to for you share since you seem so concerned.
Roy Fuchs April 12, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Mitch - I have attended virtually every BoE meeting for the last two budget cycles and reported on the meetings for Patch - search on my name. I was a strong supporter of the schools in another community when my kids were students, and I remain so even though my wife and I moved here as empty nesters. My point, which I guess I didn't make well, is that someone who, by law, does not have the right to tell the BoE how to allocate its budget nevertheless did so. And at the Tuesday meeting I came away with the impression that the board had to approve. You should also know that the administration had talked about restorations before undertaking a new program. But the vote was to add what should make Trumbull a more attractive community for young families. The "thank you" was tongue in cheek. What seems to be missing from the conversation is that our schools are being slowly slimmed down to make seniors - in fact all non-clients of the schools - happier with their tax bills. If this continues, who will buy our houses?
Roy Fuchs April 12, 2012 at 10:03 PM
Dear I - Me thinks thou missed the point. Take a look at my comment to Mitch Kelly.
Patty Sheehan April 12, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Welcome to Trumbull....it's a Jerry Springer episode every day....but the voters keep voting.
Dan April 13, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Let's hope your children succeed without any unforeseen challenges beyond Kindergarten. Because if they do, you may find that there is a very thin layer of support or intervention the farther you go up through the grades. The 1st Selectman highly politicized the issue of FDK for his own gain. We will never know if the money would have been better spent elsewhere in education due to politics. If you want to give credit where credit is due, it's the Democratic members of the BOE who had to try and make sure the money for FDK didn't come at the expense of older students.
Carol Hudak April 13, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Last budget, Herbst and TC illegally tried to take control of BOE funds. Lawyers were brought in and it got stopped. Whether anyone likes it or not, State of CT law dictates BOE, and no one else, is in charge of their funds.
JR April 13, 2012 at 11:24 AM
I find it odd that the BoF now has to approve what it did not approve during it's own budget process. Why would they change their minds? Will Hammers, Lavoie and Rutigliano hold their noses while raising their hands?
Joan April 13, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Sure they will. Because this way, it doesn't look as obvious to the citizens of Trumbull that they are adding that much money to the BOE budget. Openness and transparency...not the hallmarks of this administration.
Mark E Smith April 13, 2012 at 12:38 PM
http://trumbull.patch.com/articles/school-board-details-proposed-cuts "Likewise, closing an elementary school has not been taken out of the discussion. But neither of these can be accomplished between now and September, Iassogna said."... Feb. 27, 2011 Amazing what a year makes. Last year the threat of closing schools, now the BoE has $1.6 million in cash and will have $875,000 left over to pay for ADK. Who should you believe?
trumbulite09 April 13, 2012 at 05:36 PM
I'm stuck on staggering the opening times of elementary school. Is this true? If so by how much? Do the politician forget that working parents pay taxes in town too? School opening later for me would mean having to hire someone to get the kids to school! Please clarify.
Tom Kelly April 13, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Mark, it's truly amazing how much misinformation and errors you post here regularly. The Board does not have $1.6 million in cash. There is a projected surplus of about 800,000 - $1,000,000 right now, but there is still 2.5 months to go in the year. This surplus was created by higher lower salaried replacements, and positions were vacant for longer this year before they were filled. We also had the warmest winter in years, which reduced energy expenses, and also had a government grant come through that added $220,000 to the surplus. There are reasons why the $873,000 is there, and they are perfectly legitimate. Since Herbst took office, there have been greater surpluses on the town side of the budget. Why doesn't anyone say he's overbudgeting? trumbullite, the motion approved by the BOE to enable FDK included $175,000 in transportation savings from next year's budget line. The Superintendent did not discuss specifics as to how that $175,000 transportation savings will be developed.
Archie Bunker April 13, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Sorry, Roy, but your sarcastic approach just doesn't make me feel guilty at all...
Roy Fuchs April 13, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Mark - Where's the $6M? If they have the money for ADK it's a combination things like a warm winter, not doing maintenance and foregoing textbook and software purchases. The FS made ADK a campaign pledge and now tells the BoE to make good for him. When he cuts $1.32M from the ed budget then two weeks later recommends giving senior tax relief of $1.2M and you're on the BoE, you can't have too many options. You of all people understands the sleight of mouth that the new funding method is. The BoF (hopefully) will approve rolling over all unspent funds, up to 1% of the budget for use next year. This may well create a funding cliff because it doesn't bring in any net new cash, it simply has the BoE not spend this year so can have for next.
Roy Fuchs April 13, 2012 at 08:32 PM
No details yet. Cutting the budget by $1.39M was the final nail in the coffin. The BoE had no option but to look elsewhere to do the restorations. And for some, the restorations have higher priority than ADK. Early projections are that there will be no tax residential taxpayer increase this year, and for those whose homes have declined the most in value there may be a tax decrease.
Roy Fuchs April 13, 2012 at 08:35 PM
I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, Archie. I'm trying to drive a point. We have one segment of the community benefitting at the other's expense. That's all.
Lisa Labella April 14, 2012 at 02:23 AM
The comment about closing a school was in response to "what if" questions from members of the Board of Finance, as in, "what if we cut lower than" ..... specifically, if the BOF reduced the 11-12 request to a 2% increase. That reduction was not made, hence the disussion never went that far.
dave wilsoon April 17, 2012 at 03:25 AM
C'mon people- Our BOE and Ralph have been using the same tricks for years- pad the operating budgets and then amazingly find extra money at the 11th hour for their pet programs. All the while they hold our kids up like poster children for the "cause of education", with the PTA acting as their willing shills. Translated loosely, they keep their inflated salaries and pensions while the taxpayers continue to fund this orgy of spending. Everybody winks and nods. HOORAY FOR THE KIDS !! (haha The joke is on you)
trumbulite09 April 17, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Dave - you obviously have never looked at a BoE budget. Could you specify what you mean by inflated salaries? The teacher are at level if not less than sorrounding areas. At least get your facts straight before you comment. Last year the teachers opted not to take a raise. So tired of hearing how over paid our hardworking school staff is paid. I wish the town budget was as transparent.
Roy Fuchs April 17, 2012 at 06:35 PM
Dave - If "padding" means the administration benefited from their practice of allocating the average of the last ten years costs for the energy to that line item, or that they have been able to hire teachers at costs below what they projected, and in both cases should have funds remaining in the accounts at year end, yes, they padded. Having been on the approving end of municipal budgets 20 years ago - in another community, in fact, compared to where Trumbull is today, in another life time - let me say that the days of padding and hiding money are long over, especially here in Trumbull. There are no $25,000 roof repairs sitting in some phantom reserve. Perhaps that we are the 40th wealthiest municipality in the state (of 169 cities and towns), yet have the 108th highest cost per pupil (of about 155 districts - and we are in Fairfield County) is a sign of padding? Or that we have the fifth highest pay-to-participate fees of the 30 some odd districts that even have these fees shows we are "padding?" Likewise, 12 year old computers used by THS students are scavenged and rebuilt for middle and elementary school students. Is that padding? I think not. The unspent dollars you are concerned about do nothing to mitigate the fact that our education budget has been not a zero base, but a zero sum exercise for a number of years.
dave wilsoon April 18, 2012 at 01:03 AM
Mark Like I said, you are correct. One big expensive shell game. I remember the year Ralph "found" over 200k of surplus to close the budget gap. What kind of legitimate leader of any legitimate business finds additional operating money??? No sympathy here Roy for this game of 3 card monte.
Roy Fuchs April 18, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Dave - Please tell me the alternative to using historic actuals to establish line items for expenses that cannot be forecasted accurately one year before costs are incurred and to under spending in hiring professional staff members. If the district were padding, would they rebuild 12 year old computers and remain one of the very few districts that employs pay-to-participate fees? Last year the BoE managed closely enough to spend 99.5% of the money allotted it by the FS, BoF and TC (if you believe they were over budgeted, that is an entirely different discussion). They turned back that 0.5% and were given back about 80% to fund freshman sports and other programs that the FS had cut. Is this padding?
Roy Fuchs April 18, 2012 at 03:48 AM
Dave - in re Mr. Smith's comment, the school closing from last year is a non sequitur in this year's conversation. But, yes, the BoE did hold conversations about available options if the most dramatic cuts were made by the FS. There is also no $1.6M. The law being applied to fund All Day Kindergarten (the object of Mr. Smith's $875,000) is new this year. It allows a district to appeal to their BoF for permission to roll over unspent funds, up to 1% of the budget, from one year to the next. That amount approximates $900,000. Most of what will be rolled over will be from the under spending for energy and for teachers. Thus, rather than "padding," the BoF is working with the BoE to recycle monies already included in their budget. You might want to ask Mr. Smith, who is a skilled financial analyst, how he derived his numbers.
HL May 08, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Families like mine, with smart achieving students, are on the way out. Schools are failing us. Per US News just released HS rankings, Trumbull has fallen off of a cliff. Out student/teacher ratio is worse than 90% of the other schools in the state. Our "college readiness index" has plummeted to 16 (Newtown, Monroe, Easton/Redding and Fairfield are all in the 40's-50's). Our AP participation rate is a pathetic 16% (the other aforementioned schools are at 50%, give or take). The other schools are ranked, we didn't even qualify to get ranked, we're just in the "other" bucket. The weakened student/teacher ratio and reduction in AP are a punch in the gut to our children's chances of being accepted at a good school. I'm so glad we were pennywise and poundfoolish on education over the past several years, with BoF members who were axing the public education budget while planning to send their kids to private schools. Go figure. Time to look into putting the house on the market.
Carol Hudak May 08, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Thank you for posting this, HL. This is very disturbing news. Not that the present town government cares. They appear to be most interested in pandering to seniors for votes.
Roy Fuchs May 08, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Let's take a quick look at US News' top ten. The #1 - CT Baccalaureate - is a magnet school, five others are DRG A. The other four - the two in West Hartford and Farmington and Simsbury - are DRG B, as is Trumbull. We can afford to do better. Trumbull is about the 38th wealthiest of CT's 169 communities, but we have the 112th highest cost per pupil. Is it possible that doing less with less has caught up with us? One answer will come when THS is evaluated for reaccreditation by NEASC next year. Hopefully we'll look better to professional educators than we do to a popular magazine. Beyond better funding, it may be that these four DRG B schools can show us how we can improve. For example, why do they have, on average, four times as many students taking AP tests as we do? Does this slap in the face tarnish our Family Circle award? You wonder if some cynic will point out that the award was earned four or five years ago, so we’re just living in the afterglow, but... So, how do we respond? Are we OK with a bronze? Or do we provide the schools our students deserve, their parents want and realtors can showcase? Let me suggest a community committee to benchmark THS against other high schools. Certainly against the "big four," against DRG B schools that graded more like THS, then perhaps an aspirational DRG A school or two to see what gold looks like.

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