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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.

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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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