The Town Council has unanimously approved a $100,000 reduction to the Board of Education budget after a packed public hearing at council chambers Monday night.
The reduction brings the board’s funding to $38.2 million, a $900,000 increase over the current year’s budget.
Voters narrowly rejected the $38.3 million education spending plan passed by the Town Council in a 384-372 vote on April 30, with only 16 “no” votes calling the district’s spending too low. The $23.5 million municipal budget passed 409-354.
Democratic Councilor Rosemary Morante said she felt a substantial cut to school funding was not warranted due to the close margin of the vote and the $100,000 was the maximum reduction she could support. "It was a very, very close vote. It was rejected by only 12 votes, I don't think it was a mandate," Morante said.
Town Council Chairperson Katherine Pugliese said 26 emails received by councilors urged that the reduction be kept minimal.
The revised budget will go before voters a second time on Tuesday, May 14, with the Fire Department headquarters on West Main Street serving as a polling place from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.
If the budget is rejected again it will return to the council, which would be obligated to revise it in the direction indicated by the too low/too high advisory questions.
Including the $23.5 million municipal budget which passed, the overall $61.9 million town budget originally approved by the council would have raised the mill rate by 0.88 mills to 34.72 mills, meaning a $121 tax increase for the average home assessed at $137,227. Municipal spending under the adopted portion of the budget will be going up $819,000.
Councilors Ty Cox and Deborah Tompkins, both Republicans, said they came into Monday’s meeting leaning toward a $200,000 cut to the school budget, but were swayed by the number of residents, many of them parents, who made the case for a smaller reduction.
"When I woke up this morning I was at the $200,000 to request the board to cut from their budget. After sitting through this public hearing tonight, and not being in the high school too long ago myself, I think that it is unfair to punish the children in this town by the parents’ mistakes of not going to vote," Cox said.
While turnout was higher than last year, less than 7 percent of eligible voters cast ballots on April 30.
Many of those who spoke during the public hearing were concerned about the impact cuts could have on special education programs and social studies courses at Plainville High School, which already have larger class sizes than other subjects.
A document circulated at the council meeting listed the removal of special education teachers for the hearing impaired and autistic students, a literacy tutor, a social studies teacher and the scaling back of sports at the Middle School of Plainville.
Rachel Posner, who has two deaf children at Toffolon Elementary School, said reducing services for children like hers would put them at risk of falling behind.
“You set my kids up to fail when you cut the teacher of deaf services,” she said.
Only a handful of the dozens who spoke Monday said they were in favor of a larger reduction to the education budget.
Resident John Kisluk said consecutive increases in local government funding are unsustainable and he believes the cuts the Board of Education says it needs to make were meant to drum up support for school spending.
"This is not sustainable, you can't keep increasing this budget $1 million a year. It's just ridiculous," he said.
Superintendent of Schools Maureen Brummett said the board will be meeting in the coming weeks to decide where the $100,000 will come from and expects the reduction will largely affect the same areas already highlighted by the board.
“Each and every item on that list is going to impact my students,” she said.
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