Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Vernon mayor wants to see line-by-line school budget

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
July 25, 2006

VERNON - Predicting that next year's budget process would be more difficult than this year's, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer has told the Board of Education to retool the way it presents its spending plan.

In a July 17 memorandum to Acting Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz, Board of Education President Catherine A. Rebai, and school board members, Marmer chastised the board for only partially addressing her request to receive a line-item copy of the board's proposed 2006-07 budget.

"We need transparency and a budget which can be understood by our voters, not misunderstood," Marmer wrote. "I am asking that you prepare a line item budget which includes programs, staffing, and revenue sources."

School officials have been working on converting the budget to the format that Marmer is requesting, but the process is time-consuming, Rebai said today.

In her letter, Marmer went on to say that, outside of contractual obligations, she was going to ask all departments and the school board to refrain from increases in operating expenses when developing their 2007-08 budgets.

Town departments, including the schools, also would be prohibited from creating new positions.

Because of an upcoming property revaluation, Marmer said passing the next town budget would be more difficult than this year's process, which required four referendums before passing by 222 votes on July 13.

Because of this, Marmer asked the school board to look at the budget processes in other towns, and to form a coalition of parent teacher organization presidents and other "interested" parties to stir support next spring.

This year's budget process was a trying one for town officials, who had to cut more than $1.5 million before settling on a $70.7 million spending plan that was acceptable to voters.

The school board took a significant hit during that process, losing more than $650,000 from Marmer's executive budget proposed in March.

As a result, school officials were forced to cut funding for a number of supplies and programs including textbooks, field trips, and freshman sports.

And school officials still must figure out how to cut $25,000 more from their budget, officials said this month.

Rebai said today that presenting the budget in the mayor's format has been difficult because the school system's computer software is incompatible and there is no money to purchase a new system.

Although officials will continue the process of converting the budget manually, Rebai said, their priority would be dealing with the implications of the recently adopted budget.

"We worked at it the best we can to get it in this format," Rebai said. "We couldn't do it for last year, but we'll do it as much for next year as we can."

But Marmer said she didn't accept the software explanation, adding that she has made the town's information technology staff available to deal with the software issue.

"If they have software concerns, they are going to have to get on it now," Marmer said. "I won't accept that as an answer."

As for next year's budget, Rebai said, she realizes that the process could be difficult, given the revaluation and the increasing tax burden as the result of nearly $90 million in bonding for road and school reconstruction projects.

Rebai said it is too early to say if school officials would be able to meet the mayor's edict of no new positions or non-contractual expenses.

"I would say we'll deal with it as we get there," Rebai said. "We'll set our priorities as we go."

Rebai has said that school officials have done what they can to control contractual obligations by reworking healthcare costs with the school system's unions and taking its teachers' union to binding arbitration in 2004.

©Journal Inquirer 2006