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Norwich — A debate over whether to eliminate school resource police officers and use the savings to expand full-day kindergarten to all elementary schools dominated the Board of Education budget committee meeting Tuesday.
But the full school board delayed action on final budget staff cuts to await word on the state Alliance District school improvement grant.
The school board must cut $1.3 million to reach the $70.5 million approved budget that took effect Monday. The board quickly agreed to nearly $1.2 million in cuts — cutting new programs including world languages and middle school music.
But the board then agreed to cut the final $180,000 from salaries without specifying what positions would be cut. The board expects to hear later this month whether the state Department of Education will approve the city’s plan to spend the $2.3 million Alliance District school improvement grant, which could cover some teaching positions.
School resource officers cost $189,000, prompting the debate over whether that should be the first item cut.
The school system started full-day kindergarten at the John B. Stanton School this past school year using the state Network school improvement grant. Superintendent Abby Dolliver said the program was immediately successful, with students reading at the first-grade level before the school year ended.
The school system plans to use the Alliance District grant to expand full-day kindergarten to the Uncas and Wequonnoc schools, leaving four schools — John M. Moriarty, Thomas Mahan, Veterans’ Memorial and the Samuel Huntington schools — with half-day kindergarten.
Board member Jesshua Ballaro argued that she would not support a budget that cut teaching positions while preserving the two school resource officer positions. She said the board should make full-day kindergarten a permanent priority.
“Of course, we want our schools to be safe,” Ballaro said, “but we’re in the business to teach.”
“I would rather see more teachers than SROs,” board member Dennis Slopak agreed.
Dolliver, however, expressed concern that if the board expanded full-day kindergarten, the programs could be in jeopardy in two years when state Alliance District funding could end.
Dolliver said state officials want to see school improvements that are “sustainable” by the district. Norwich had full-day kindergarten several years ago, but it was dropped in budget cuts.
Ballaro said the board should make full-day kindergarten a budget priority every year.
The Board of Education was forced to make the budget cuts after the City Council approved a $70.5 million school budget — only $150,000 higher than last fiscal year’s budget — while the board had to absorb a $1.5 million tuition increase at the Norwich Free Academy.