Several Trumbull residents at the first public hearing on the budget Thursday told the Board of Finance to support all-day kindergarten.
But it was how to pay for it that was a concern at the hearing at Trumbull High School. About 25 people showed up and six spoke.
Parent Teacher Student Association Council President Lainie McHugh praised First Selectman Tim Herbst's budget proposal for supporting all-day kindergarten and core school district costs.
Herbst's budget proposal would give the Board of Education a 3.47 percent increase and the whole budget would increase by about 4.2 percent. The Board of Education had recommended a 5.07 percent increase to its budget.
McHugh said she was glad he was thinking "outside of the box and working with the Supt. [of Schools Ralph Iassogna] to make it happen."
But she acknowledged that some of Herbst's ideas to fund the program are unorthodox and cautioned they could create a funding cliff next year.
McHugh also criticized the Board of Finance for not questioning administrators and school principals who attended a meeting at Town Hall Wednesday night.
Cindy Katske, a tri-president of THS' PTSA, said, "I'm skeptical but I will try to remain optimistic." She wanted the 5.07 percent increase.
A funding plan for all-day kindergarten "must be sustainable, but not through shell games or gimmicks."
She was referring to proposals such as supplemental appropriations after the Town Council approves the education budget.
She also had other concerns.
- The number of teachers has not grown with student enrollment. Some seniors pondering science majors have not been able to take extra science classes that will help them get into good colleges;
- Guidance counselors are spread too thin with the "highest guidance counselor caseload in the state";
- THS does not offer SAT preparation courses any more;
- The technology teacher splits time between THS and Madison Middle School. THS students use technology "all the time," she said.
Following her was Art Mikucki, a 21-year Trumbull resident. "I think full-time kindergarten is full-time subsidized babysitting," he said.
He cited a Connecticut Post article that said, "by second grade, all advantage is lost," referring to early childhood education. "So how effective is this?"
Teachers got raises in the two years before last, taking a zero last year, he added. "The taxpayers have sacrificed enough. Why not let the teachers sacrifice?"
He concluded by noting that taxes would increase under Herbst's proposal due to debt service for bonding for THS renovations.
Tony D'Aquila followed with an attack on the school board's decision last year to fund freshman sports, sophomore football and ice hockey over reading specialists at both middle schools.
"The board's highest priority was sports and not academics," knowing CAPT scores showed problems in the reading category at the 10th grade level, he said.
"The board obviously felt that it was more important to teach a student how to kick a football 50 yards than to teach the same student how to read a paragraph and understand what he read," D'Aquila said. "This is an example of a runaway board appeasing a special interest group."
"Best Return on the Investment"
Dana Misner, a cost-efficiency project manager, supported full-day kindergarten.
"I like to think about needs and I like to think about what's going to give me the best return on the investment," she said."Full-day kindergarten to me is exactly that." The town gets $3 for for every $1 spent, she estimated.
"Kindergarten has changed quite a bit over the years. Four-, 5- and 6-year-olds need to know how to read by the end of kindergarten," Misner said, adding that there isn't much time in 2.5 hours of half-day kindergarten for children to develop social skills and learn their ABCs.
All-day kindergarten also attracts people to the town, the mother said. She admitted that while 5.07 percent is high, she was "irate" that there are 16 cooking classes but not extra science classes for seniors.
John Pappas, whose child is two weeks old, said he moved to Trumbull in 2010 because of the high quality of living, property taxes and school system.
All-day kindergarten is also a strong point, he said.
Pappas added that he was concerned that school board wanted to add personnel while enrollment has been flat.
"As anybody in business knows, when you have less product to sell, you do not hire more people," he said. "We have to make sure we're not over-hiring."
The Board of Finance Responds
Finance board Chairwoman Elaine Hammers addressed one point after the speakers finished.
"This board has no say in how the Board of Education spends its money," Hammers said, adding that comparing districts can be difficult because each one operates its finances differently.
For example, some districts let their towns handle health benefit costs. Trumbull tried that but an attorney hired by the school board said it was a violation of state law and could lead to a lawsuit.
The next budget hearing will be at Trumbull High School on Feb. 25 at 10 a.m.