By Claire Bessette
Norwich — About 20 people attended Thursday's school budget public hearing, but only two parents and one teacher addressed the Board of Education, asking that members consider adding funding for foreign language instruction, after-school programs and librarians.
School Superintendent Abby Dolliver presented a $72.5 million, 2013-14 budget to the board's budget committee Tuesday that calls for a $2.1 million, 3 percent increase driven mostly by a $1.5 million increase in tuition at Norwich Free Academy.
Dolliver said the public school portion of the budget is projected to rise by $608,873, a 0.87 percent increase in spending. The public school portion of the increase includes a nearly $532,000 combined increase in certified and support salaries. But the budget also reflects contractual savings in health insurance that were negotiated with unionized staff and led to no cost increase for health insurance.
Bills for utilities and heating expenses are expected to drop by about $260,000 because of a natural gas savings.
Many parents and teachers in the audience are members of school governance councils for various city schools.
Kathy Warzecha, a member of the Kelly Middle School Governance Council, said the Kelly and Teachers' Memorial school governance councils had a joint meeting recently and decided on priorities they would like to see added to the budget.
The top priority would be to restore foreign language instruction, which was cut several years ago from the middle school curriculum. Warzecha said the world economy demands students learn other languages to succeed.
"My daughter is in seventh grade, and she's never had a (foreign) language," Warzecha said.
Other priorities include adding librarian hours at the middle schools, restoring instrumental music — also cut several years ago — and after-school sports.
Parents made similar requests last year for foreign languages and music programs, and the Board of Education did add them to the budget, only to be cut later by the City Council.
The Board of Education will vote on a preliminary 2013-14 budget Tuesday. Norwich City Manager Alan Bergren will present his proposed budget, including a recommendation for the school budget, to the City Council on April 1.