More spending sought for New London schools

New London - Ten residents let their thoughts be known Tuesday during a Board of Education public hearing on a proposed $40.1 million 2013-14 school budget. And they all agreed - "We need more money."

None of the parents who spoke during the hour-long hearing were happy with the 1.5 percent increase over the current $39.8 million budget that the school administration has proposed. They said the budget does not move the district forward.

"These are our children we are speaking about. This is their future we are discussing,'' Maegan Parrott said in a letter that was read during the hearing.

By the end of the night, the school board's Finance and Audit Committee would add five new positions, increasing the budget proposal by roughly $350,000 to $450,000. School administrators will firm up the figures in time to present the proposal to the full Board of Education Thursday.

The board is expected to vote on the budget that night, then forward it to the mayor's office.

The 1.5 percent increase would have mainly covered contractual obligations in the district, including a 1 percent increase in teachers' salaries, and did not address problems, such as the fact that there is only one guidance counselor in the middle school for 600 students, and that lower elementary grade class sizes run as large as 28 students.

"My main focus and main concern is essentially to see how we can get more teachers to reduce the amount of students in a class,'' said William Gonzalez of Garfield Avenue, echoing the sentiments of all the parents who spoke at the hearing.

The Finance and Audit Committee, which was holding the hearing, responded by recommending an increase to the proposed budget to hire an additional guidance counselor for the middle school and four new teachers for kindergarten, first, second and third grades.

The cost would be about $350,000, according to committee member William Morse, who suggested the increase. Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said the price tag for the five new positions would be closer to $450,000.

Earlier in the evening, parents pressed the committee to take a stand. Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who attended the meeting briefly, said he would support whatever was requested but that he, too, questioned why the board would want to flat-fund the district. School district spending has not increased for the past five years.

"I don't think it was appropriate that our community became the first community in the state to flat fund for five years in a row,'' Finizio said. "We should not make it six.''

Members of the New London Parent Advocates also complained that the proposal does not address class sizes, dwindling staff and professional support, school maintenance and community services.

"A budget reflects priorities - and it is the New London Parent Advocates' opinion that this budget does not adequately reflect the community's priorities concerning the public education of our city's children,'' member Mirna Martinez said, reading part of a letter Tuesday night. "The proposed increase only addresses contractual obligations. It does nothing to address initiatives aimed at ensuring quality instruction and improving student achievement - two concerns about which we all share great interest."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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