Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School board cuts field trips, freshmen sports, aides to accommodate budget reduction

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
May 23, 2006

VERNON - The Board of Education cut nearly $780,000 from its proposed 2006-07 budget, eliminating funding for field trips, freshman sports, and some teacher aides.

But despite the sizeable reduction from the approximately $42 million budget request, Monday night's action is still $262,611 short of a 1.5 percent cut mandated by the Town Council this month.

The proposed cuts were approved on a 6-2 vote with Democrat Amarjit S. Buttar and Republican school board President Catherine A. Rebai voting against the cuts.

Democrat Susan N. Hesnan was absent from Monday's meeting.

The proposed cuts were the result of a budget steering committee meeting held after getting the mandate from the Town Council.

During a May 11 budget workshop, the Town Council's Republican majority passed a resolution instructing all department heads to reduce their budget by 1.5 percent.

That workshop came two days after voters overwhelmingly rejected a $71.94 million budget at referendum.

As a result, school officials had to reduce their proposed budget by more than $628,035.

This is in addition to the more than $400,000 in cuts already mandated by Mayor Ellen L. Marmer and the Town Council during initial budget deliberations.

The majority of that cut, which was formally adopted by the school board Monday night, came from reduced medical insurance costs.

But the majority of the additional $365,424 cut adopted on Monday came from the program side of the budget.

As a result, funding for field trips has been eliminated, saving the school system $18,801.

School officials also eliminated the freshman sports program, saving $19,680.

In addition, $46,874 in equipment costs and $55,806 in instructional supply costs were removed from the budget.

The school board also made reductions in accounts set aside for proctors, testing, conference fees, textbooks, and Internet wiring.

But the biggest cut, $120,000 came out of the account for teacher aides, otherwise known as paraprofessionals.

The cut could result in the elimination of between eight and 12 staff members, either through attrition or layoffs, School Superintendent Stephen C. Cullinan said today.

Cullinan said all seven of the school system's buildings likely would be affected by the cut.

As a result, the high school's academic learning center could be closed, and some flexible grouping programs at the elementary schools could be altered.

And the cuts could have been greater.

The budget steering committee originally proposed to eliminate two part-time language teaching positions and a part-time teaching position associated with the elementary school ecology program.

But several school board members balked, saying they didn't want to cut teachers when the school system is adding a custodial staff member.

But Republican board member Peggy A. Jackle suggested the school board list those positions as potential cuts should the Town Council continue to demand a 1.5 percent reduction.

"It's not a scare tactic, it's a reality," Jackle said.

Republican David G. Kemp, a member of the school board's budget committee, said the cuts could have been even deeper.

The budget committee had discussed more extensive reductions to teaching staff and extra-curricular activities, Kemp said.

Rebai said she plans to be at tonight's Town Council meeting to plead for the school board's budget, and asked other board members to join her.

"We can't run a school system and cut this much out of a budget that was lean to begin with," Rebai said. "They have their job to do too, but this is beyond what I imagined we would get hit with."

If the school board is forced to cut the entire 1.5 percent, Cullinan said, the school system's budget would increase 2.43 percent over the current $41.8 million budget.

That number is lower than what is needed to increase salaries, he said.

©Journal Inquirer 2006