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By JULIANNE HANCKEL
New London - Residents and some students took advantage of the school board's public hearing on Thursday to voice concerns about the proposed 2012-13 school budget.
The Board of Education plans to vote on and submit its $42.9 million budget to the City Council next week. The spending plan proposes a 6 percent, $3.2 million increase over this year's $39.8 million budget.
Before the hearing, board Chairman William Morse said the proposed budget will keep most of the positions that had been slated to be cut but "leaves no room for any new initiatives."
Residents have addressed the school board since budget talks began in January, but on Thursday evening the majority touched on how important art, music and physical education are to students.
According to budget documents, one art, one music and one physical education teacher from the elementary level will be cut if the board does not receive the 6 percent increase. Also, the schools would receive only 40 minutes of electives per week, a reduction from the current 55 minutes a week.
Jeffery Wolfson, an art teacher at Harbor School, expressed his dismay at the potential elimination of art, music and physical education programs at the elementary level.
"What is especially distressing is that these cuts are being made at a time when we are less than a year and a half away from opening an elementary magnet school," he said. "This is the message being sent to the cities and surrounding towns we are trying to attract other students from."
To help reiterate his point, fourth-grader Alliyah Brooks spoke on behalf of the arts program at Nathan Hale.
"I think you should keep art because it helps people learn how to do new things like values and moving gestures," she said. "… Losing art would probably be a big thing for me because I do a lot of art at home and I love to draw. Having art is the most funnest specials I have in school in my opinion."
Brooks was recognized during the board's regular meeting for her achievement as an art contest winner in the Connecticut Fire Prevention Poster Contest.
Resident Nerissa Burdick also spoke in favor of the arts programs.
"I do not feel we should lose any of these programs. If you cut these programs, then these kids are stuck with academics to the point where they will become bored and not want to be in the schools," she said.
If the council chooses to flat-fund the school board's budget for the fifth year in a row, many of the district's teaching, paraprofessional, art, music and other positions will be cut.
The school board is expected to vote on the proposed budget in a special meeting Monday at 7 p.m., and then submit its budget to the City Council Thursday.