Fearful of cuts to Suffield's public school budget, a group of Suffield parents filled the town’s board of finance budget review meeting Monday night. What they heard was a general consensus of approval for the board of education's $31.26 million proposal.
“The board of [education] did an excellent job,” said board of finance member Joseph Sangiovanni. “I don’t see where they could cut any more.”
Board of finance members Scott Lingenfelter and Ryan Anderson agreed.
“I think what came in is quite reasonable,” Anderson said.
First Selectman Ed McAnaney and the town's board of selectmen are seeking a zero-increase budget for the entire town. The municipal portion of the budget came in with an increase of less than one tenth of one percent, approved by the selectmen Monday.
Education financing is the largest portion of the town budget, traditionally close to 60 percent of the total budget. According to the school board, the numbers were crafted to result in an increase of 1.63 percent above last year’s funding package.
Suffield residents concerned with applying the same zero-increase plan to the education budget spoke out at the finance board's meeting.
“I think we are looking at this wrong,” said Sue Porcello, school board chairwoman, during audience participation in the police station conference room. “Instead of going to a zero budget, we need to look at what this town needs.”
She cautioned cutting budgets at the risk of making negative impacts on safety in town and with a solid school system.
Kris Karam, who sent out a mass email encouraging school parents to attend the meeting, complimented the school board on a reasonable budget.
“The one reason I moved to this town was the quality of the schools," Karam said. "What I fear is if you [cut this budget] you will cut into programs that will affect the kids.”
Several audience members indicated they would rather see enhanced town services and maintenance rather than budget cuts.
“We want Suffield to be a place people want to live, not a place they want to leave,” said Linda Cunningham.
Tracy McDonagh echoed that sentiment, pointing to maintenance issues for town and school buildings and a lack of forward planning.
“You send the message that you want the status quo in this town,” she explained. “And that’s not sending the right message.”
Warren Packard complimented the school board on it’s small increase given the circumstances of non-negotiable salaries and benefits.
“I haven the foggiest idea of how they managed to do that,” he said, then suggested the finance board members remember they can both reduce and increase budgets in order to make positive changes to "the good stuff.”
“We can’t let our facilities be damaged by a failure to keep them maintained properly,” he said.
Jeanne Gee, one of several school board members present, was pleased with the outcome.
“I’m proud to serve on a board whose earnest commitment to make the schools the best they can be is mirrored in the work of the other boards and commissions in Suffield,” she said after the meeting. “What a pleasure it is to live here.”
The Board of Finance also examined the nearly $14 million municipal portion of the budget and discussed gas and oil related costs, energy savings and employee benefits and raises.
Some discussion went into the placement of the school liaison officer’s proper placement in the school or municipal budget.
The board also looked at ways to bond or otherwise plan for future capital improvements.
It will continue to look at the budgets and consider public input before putting the combined budget to a public vote at a town meeting within the next few months.