WALLINGFORD — The school system is facing $1,460,577 worth of employee cuts after the Board of Education slashed a total of $2,054,423 in non-staffing education spending Monday night.
The move to cut costs comes on the heels of a budget dispute between the board and Republican Mayor William Dickinson Jr., which resulted in a roughly $3.5 million deficit between the $116,736,919 requested by the board and the $113,221,919 funding proposal put forward by the mayor for the 2023-2024 academic year.
Monday’s meeting drew a crowd of six educators and multiple residents, each in attendance to lobby against staffing cuts. The session came to an end after two hours — including public comment and closed-door deliberations — yielding only finalized numbers for funding reductions in items not tied directly to staff.
The board signed off on $759,014 worth of cuts to strategic items, $300,000 in contingency items, $644,932 to curriculum, $65,000 to the maintenance budget, $49,700 to the IT Department $53,200 to the Business Department, $31,000 to the superintendent’s budget and $151,577 in special education.
The conclusion of the meeting left teachers in limbo as the board agreed to reconvene at a later date in a session dedicated exclusively to workshopping staff cuts. Wallingford educators — who attended the meeting hoping to learn which schools and departments will face layoffs — came out Monday evening largely due to the uncharacteristically far-reaching staff reductions facing the district, Wallingford Education Association President Anne Varrone-Lederle said.
Varrone-Lederle, a world language teacher at Moran Middle School, said looming cuts rattled teachers, many of whom chose to work in Wallingford specifically because the district has a reputation of job stability and maintaining a robust staff support network.
“We were surprised by this because we haven’t had major cuts in the district in 10 years,” Varrone-Lederle said. “People are nervous. People are scared. A lot of people have come to Wallingford to work because they know that we have good working conditions and the salary and stability. So, it’s kind of rocking a lot of people.”
The Board of Education appeared reluctant to slash staffing, with Chair Tammy Raccio asserting members attempted to fit as many budget cuts into non-staffing items they viewed feasible and citing the board’s inital funding request, which outpaced the proposal from Dickinson.
Raccio worried cuts to staffing threaten to set a perilous precedent for the district.
“That’s the thing too, if we start laying off teachers,” Raccio said, “we don’t want to have a reputation that we’re not a stable town to retain teachers? Who’s going to want to come to our town if we lay off teachers every other year?”
The over $1.4 million in staffing cuts currently on the table is not set in stone. The Town Council previously sought to amend Dickinson’s plan, increasing the budget by $300,000. Their adjustment, however, was vetoed by the mayor.
Should a super majority of legislators on the Town Council vote to override Dickinson at a special session on Wednesday, the education budget will include additional funding put forward by the body. Circumventing Dickinson, Raccio said, would place several hundred thousand dollars back on the table, which she said could be allocated toward keeping educators on the town payroll.
“Even though it’s only $300,000, that could save some bodies,” Raccio said.
The Board of Education will meet to workshop staffing cuts Wednesday (May 17) at 6 p.m.