STAMFORD — Frustrated school board members have lashed out at the city’s Board of Finance for cutting $1.7 million from the district’s budget request last week.
“The budget that I supported was a budget that I felt was what we needed. It wasn’t a wish list. It was what we needed,” Board of Education President Geoff Alswanger said at Tuesday’s meeting. “(But) somehow that fell into deaf ears. And it was and continues to be very disappointing.”
Nicola Tarzia, the only school board member to vote against the plan in February, blamed its own panel for requesting a budget he described as “too risky.”
“I hope this provides a good example of how not to cut our own budget,” he told his fellow board members.
Last week’s cut left the schools’ proposed budget at $269.7 million, a 2.2 percent increase over what was originally allocated for the current year. But when compared with the recently adjusted 2016-17 budget, which went up because of a change in post-employment benefits, the proposed increase amounts to only 1.6 percent — one of the lowest rates in recent years.
The Board of Education last year requested a 5 percent increase, and was granted 3.5 percent.
Tarzia said he warned the board two months ago the superintendent’s plan was “too tight to cut to the bone.”
“The board still decided to go with this low, low budget,” he said.
The Board of Finance vote last Thursday was not unanimous. Two of the six members voted against the cut. The ones who supported the reduction said they spent hours examining the education plan and found several potential savings.
“We have to make tough choices,” finance board member Dudley Williams said last week. “We have to make compromises to get to a point where I think is sustainable.”
The spending plan submitted by Superintendent of Schools Earl Kim would add classrooms for students with developmental challenges and for those on the autism spectrum. He said it’s an effort to curb the skyrocketing cost of special education by keeping more students in the city rather than paying to send them out of district.
“I’ve heard repeatedly, year after year, from the Board of Finance… ‘Why are you not doing something more with special education? Why are you not building programs to bring those children in house?’” Alswanger said. “And to have that plan not supported, from the same folks who asked this year after year, was very disappointing.”
School board member David Mannis said the finance panel appeared to have a “school-board-for-a-day” attitude.
“It is clear to me that if your only power is to cut, that’s what you’re going to do,” he said Tuesday.
Kim told the board the cuts would likely be applied “proportionately throughout the budget.”
The education budget could face further reductions next week when the Board of Representatives votes on the plan. That board cannot restore any cuts from the finance panel.
The schools’ budget is still $4 million higher than current spending, with much of the increase coming from contractual salary hikes.
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Stamford school board blasts finance panel for budget cut – The Advocate}