To meet a 2.375 increase, the school board made good on its cuts in sports and the gifted program, while maintaining class sizes with four second-grade teachers and keeping reading specialists.
More will have to be cut if the board must adhere to a lower increase of 1.11 percent.
This was the harsh reality played out at Wednesday evening’s Board of Education meeting as the Board of Education cut $2.55 million and made trade-offs required to get down to the First Selectman’s approved $87 million request. The meeting took place in the board's Long Hill Administration Building.
Board member Steve Wright described the panel's task as a “Hobson’s choice,” a take-it-or-leave it with no attractive option.
The board accepted cuts recommended by the administration, with the exceptions that they “bought back” the four teachers needed to hold second-grade class size at today’s level and retained the middle school reading teachers by eliminating the TAG program, tapping a final federal stimulus account and sweeping balances from the adult education, drivers’ ed and summer school accounts.
The board eliminated freshman sports – boys and girls volleyball, basketball, lacrosse and soccer, and field hockey, baseball, softball and football. Sophomore football and girls ice hockey, a club sport, were also cut, while junior varsity cheerleading remains.
The impact of this cut is that freshmen can still play sports, but not on teams that will have separate schedules, and so may find themselves with far less game playing time.
The cuts swept out computer para-professionals and interns in all six elementary schools, a speech/language teacher, five teachers, five secretaries and two custodians.
All told, some three dozen line items were reduced, including professional development and teacher training, library and classroom books, classroom and office supplies, plus repair and maintenance items, among others.
Board members Loretta Chory, Lisa Labella, Tom Kelly and Wright spoke in support of the TAG program. But all saw a greater benefit is holding class size, and so were forced to let TAG go.
Labella noted that TAG is one of the programs that distinguishes Trumbull’s schools and makes the community attractive to young families. She called TAG important more for its “social-emotional support than for what it delivers academically.”
Kelly added that “around July 1 I will ask the Board of Finance for a supplemental for the two TAG teachers.” Wright offered to be a quick second.
The Wednesday meeting, however, may have been only round one. Still ahead is resolving the Town Council’s seizure of $1.075 million in Health Insurance funding, an alleged usurping of school board authority, education lawyer Tom Mooney said.
The education board will hold a special meeting on May 10 to address the matter. If the town replaces the funds and removes its contingency by that time, last night’s budget is next year’s budget.
Otherwise, additional cuts will have to be made to drop the budget to $85.9 million, and virtually necessitate closing an elementary school. The board will also determine whether to pursue legal action to establish its sole authority under state statute to make line item allocations to its budget.