Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
All-day kindergarten, middle school sports on chopping block

By: Kym Soper
Journal Inquire
May 15, 2007

VERNON - All-day kindergarten at some elementary schools and middle school sports and after-school activities are only a few options school officials are considering for the chopping block in order to address the $300,000 in cuts made last week by the Town Council.

As for the Board of Education's attempt to reinstate positions and programs cut last year - like high school freshman football and about 12 teacher aides - "they're all gone," Interim School Superintendent Richard Paskiewicz said at Monday's school board meeting. "I'm assuming they're lost" after Mayor Ellen L. Marmer reduced the education budget by $443,000 prior to the council's cuts, he added.

And if the proposed town budget fails again at referendum today, the cuts will only deepen, Paskiewicz warned.

Voters today head to the polls to decide the fate of the Town Council's second proposed budget, now standing at $73.79 million. The first $74.7 million budget was soundly rejected by voters on May 1 by mostly older taxpayers.

School officials were still smarting Monday that many parents, whose children will be affected by cuts to education, failed to vote in the last referendum.

"Until we get a cross section voting, we won't have democracy in America," Paskiewicz said.

And right now there is a lot of misinformation being spread around town in the hopes of further defeats, he added.

"I heard at a town meeting someone get up and say that we were in the top 20 percent in per pupil spending - that's just blatantly untrue," Paskiewicz said.

Paskiewicz Monday unveiled his suggested cuts, which are an attempt to spread the pain, he said. Other areas besides the kindergarten and the middle school also would be affected. They include recommendations to:

* Not replace two retiring elementary school teachers, and increase some class sizes at the lower levels.

* Eliminate a part-time language position at the high school, and do away with freshman French while consolidating some Latin and German classes for the upper grades.

* Increase cafeteria prices.

* Delay hiring a grant administrator.

* Increase building rental fees for after-school use by private groups such as the YMCA.

* Reduce building maintenance accounts and make about $64,000 in reductions across the board.

The board decided Monday to wait for the outcome of today's vote before taking any action on Paskiewicz's recommendations, as more reductions would be needed should the referendum fail again.

There was some talk that should that happen, the school system might try to break away entirely from town services and privatize some functions.

Republican school board member Peggy Jackle and Chairwoman Catherine Rebai remain upset over the council's aborted attempt last week to charge the schools for town services such as snow removal and garbage collection.

With that action, the council "set a new all-time low and, in my opinion, a dangerous precedent," said Rebai, who has sought a legal opinion on the council's ability to raid the education budget. "I'm worried they'll pass on town costs to the board in other areas."

Data processing is the first area that needs addressing, Republican member David Kemp agreed, saying, "There is no way we get $250,000 worth of services" that the schools now pay the town to provide.

"But that's not going to fix the problem," Paskiewicz cautioned. "I know what will change this, and it's democracy in action. Until that takes place we're going to agonize over this. At what level will the Vernon parents say it's gone too far?"

The proposed school budget is $44.2 million, or 3.2 percent more than this year's $42.8 million budget. The school board originally proposed a $45.1 million budget, which would have restored positions and programs reduced last year to address four failed budget referendums.

As of May 1, total enrollment for all Vernon schools was 3,795. That number has steadily declined over the last 10 years by 10.6 percent, according to state Education Department figures, but it is expected to rebound slightly over the next few years.

The state has projected enrollment for next school year to be 3,758.

According to the latest state figures, per pupil spending in Vernon is slightly below the state average.

Expenditures for elementary and middle school grades total $8,773 per student. The state average is $9,062 for that grade level. As for the high school, Vernon spends $9,221 per pupil, while the state average stands at $9,640.

©Journal Inquirer 2007