Trumbull’s Board of Finance broke the Full Day Kindergarten funding deadlock on Wednesday evening. They used a recently passed state statute allowing them to transfer unspent school funds – up to one percent of this year's budget – from this year to next.
First Selectman Tim Herbst opened the session with a call for “bipartisanship” and “collaboration,” without even a hint of irony, in that he had created the problem.
Superintendent of Schools Ralph Iassogna supported the transfer, stating that this new approach “will help parents properly plan for the fall... and allow us to hire the most capable and qualified teachers.”
The largest of Herbst's adjustments to the 2012-13 budget was chopping nearly $1.4 million from what has become a chronically spare education budget. His cut placed the $873,000 FDK program and several important restorations of previous cuts in jeopardy. The latter includes the reduction in teaching positions at Trumbull High School despite growing enrollment and the elimination of reading specialists in the middle schools.
Finance Board Chair Elaine Hammers recommended approval of the two part resolution – to establish a new account for the Board of Education, and to approve its funding, in July, once the actual savings amount becomes known. The board agreed, 5 – 1.
Democrat Tom Tesoro voiced the only opposition, saying “I will vote for this,” but added it is “the stupidest idea I’ve heard of… this a supplemental appropriation… it makes no sense… it is bad policy.”
He also reiterated what he said during budget deliberations, that FDK should have been included in the budget because it is too important to be funded with what may be a one shot supplemental appropriation. Tesoro believes this change would help make Trumbull more attractive to young families.
The dissenting vote was cast by Republican Andy Palo. Palo, too, supports FDK, but commented after the vote that he was taking a wait and see attitude. This called into question whether he believes his fellow Republicans would, in deed, fully fund the new account.
Like Tesoro, he is concerned that adopting this new mechanism could put FDK in jeopardy again next year.
This outcome is hardly advantageous for our schools because FDK will require nearly the full one percent. Making this amount available will mean finding substantial savings. The schools' March 31 financial statements showed the administration was benefiting from a warm winter, and they were able to hire new teachers at salaries below the average used in the budget.
But closing the gap may necessitate shortchanging students by reducing purchases of classroom supplies, textbooks and software. It may also require again deferring scheduled repair and maintenance projects.
Further, shortly after cutting the education budget, the First Selectman with – to this writer’s knowledge – no prior public statement, sought $1.2 million to provide tax credits to home owning senior citizens with incomes as high as $61,000. He supported his proposal by saying keeping seniors in their homes makes the budget easier to control.
Cutting spending one year to save the next is robbing Peter to pay Paul. It also lends an air of pitting one segment of the community against another, hardly an example of “bipartisanship” and “collaboration.”