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BERLIN — A group of parents of local students are hoping to convince residents to reject the proposed school budget, saying cuts made by the Town Council and Board of Finance go too deep.
“I am very concerned about where the direction is heading and that’s why this group of parents got together,” said Imelda Mongillo, who has two children in Berlin schools.
Residents will have their say when the $44.5 million school and $45.6 million municipal budgets go to referendum on April 30.
Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with voters going to their normal polling places:
■District 1: Willard School at 1088 Norton Road
■District 2: American Legion at 154 Porters Pass
■District 3: Hubbard School at 139 Grove Street
■District 4: Berlin Senior Center at 31 Colonial Drive
■District 5: Griswold School at 133 Heather Lane
The budgets call for a combined $2.2 million increase in spending. The corresponding mill rate increase of 1.36 mills would bring the rate to 33.86 mills, a $238 increase in taxes on a home assessed at $175,000.
Mongillo is part of the Parents’ Advisory Council, a group of around 30 parents who volunteer to give their input to Superintendent Brian Benigni. The group is concerned about reductions from the Board of Education’s original budget request. .
Mongillo said the board’s request, which called for a $2.6 million in increase, reasonable and allowed the district to recovery from years of underfunding. The current proposal, following reductions from the finance board and Town Council, would be a $900,000 increase over the current year.
School officials warn the budget isn’t enough to cover fixed costs and would require cuts, and other members of the Parent’s Advisory Council share Mongillo’s concern.
“The goal is to have parents vote no too low, because it is too low,” Mary Ellen Maloney said. “When the cost of living is 2.5 (percent annually) and we’re only getting an increase of 1.8 (percent), it is too low,” she said, referring to the school district’s average funding increase over the past five years.
The group is creating fliers to encourage residents to “vote no, too low” — the budget also included advisory questions asking if the proposals were “too high” or “too low” — during the referendum.
The school budget has also received plenty of criticism, though, including from residents during an April 2 forum the Town Council hosted at the Senior Center.
“I suggest that the Town Council go back to the Board of Education and go back to the finance board and tell them we want ground zero,” said resident Joan Veley during that forum. “We want last year’s budget for this year’s budget for the Board of Ed.”
Mayor Mark Kaczynski and Superintendent Brian Benigni are holding a meeting at Berlin High School to discuss the budget with parents on Wednesday.
Kaczynski said he feels the council’s proposal is strong given the town’s financial situation and said the Board of Education is responsible for cuts to programs.
“The point I want to get across, which I don't feel a lot of people understand … is the council, we have no input on what programs the district reduce,” he said. “We give them the overall budget, but whatever programs (parents) fear they’re losing, they need to go to the Board of Ed and lobby.”