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Parents, BOE: Don't cut schools' budget

Several parents and Board of Education members urged the Town Council during a public hearing on the budget April 2 not to make any further cuts to the board's 2014-15 proposed budget.

Board of Education Vice Chairman Scott Gress told the council that the town's financial support for the schools has decreased over the past few years.

"During the past decade, the Board of Education has been asked to accept reductions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and to find ways to continue to provide an exemplary education to the children of this town," Gress said. "Is this the intended direction of our future? And if so, it represents a fundamental change in the priorities ... in this town."

The Board of Finance recommended in March an $80.9 million operating budget for the Board of Education, a 3.76 percent increase from 2013-14, and an approximate $5 million for capital projects, including $1.4 million for the schools' facilities capital projects and technology infrastructure upgrades, which would be paid for by the town's capital and nonrecurring fund.

The Town Council is scheduled to vote on the budget at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, at the New Canaan Nature Center.

Several parent-teacher organization leaders told New Canaan's councilmen that town officials seem to rely more and more on parents' and teachers' fundraising efforts for essential projects and resources at the schools.

In 2013, for instance, East Elementary School's Parent-Teacher Council raised money to buy a number of iPads for the school, according to Courtney Langford, the organization's co-president.

"My fear is that at any point, our well will dry up," Langford said. "We can't count on the continuous generosity of parents and that's what worries me as we're going forward."

Sue Morse, co-president of the Saxe Middle School PTC, said the community is willing to make donations for devices and other resources, but she said parents and teachers are afraid the schools' current technology infrastructure wouldn't support such improvements.

"Unfortunately, my kids come home and tell me stories, (such as) `the class all sat down, we had our iPads out, we were all ready to go, but only half of us could get online or only two of us were able to answer questions before the period ended,'" Morse said.

Sandra Siegel, who has a daughter at Saxe and a son at the high school, reminded the council of New Canaan Public Schools' good reputation. "The reason why people live in New Canaan is because of the school system," she said.

Siegel was among several mothers who asked the council not to cut the money for the Saxe's auditorium renovation. She said the facility is "in horrible shape."

The board is requesting $200,000 to fund a renovation design for the auditorium. Some of the issues with the facility, which was built in 1957, include broken seats, inadequate sound system and lighting that's deemed unsafe, according to district officials.

Most councilmen said they strongly support the auditorium project, but some of them would like the school to start a committee before the money becomes available so that there's a well-defined plan. Read Full Article 

"The Saxe auditorium is something that does need to be addressed, probably more so than the network IT system," Councilman Roger Williams said. "But I'd like to see, before the budget year starts ... a building committee formed to shepherd this project."

Town Council Chairman Bill Walbert also expressed support for the project.

"It's quite clear that we're in favor," he said. "We've all sat in those seats. We've all fallen backward."

Only one resident spoke against the school district at the public hearing. Michael Nowacki, who has filed many lawsuits against town officials, accused New Canaan Public Schools of refusing to provide salary savings resulting from employees leaving the district as well as state grants and revenues acquired from facilities rentals and tickets for musical and theater performances.

The town's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as recommended by the Board of Finance, is $138.4 million, which represents a 4.8 percent increase from 2013-14.

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson

Nelson Oliveira

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