Critics of Stonington cuts to proposed education spending voice frustration on Web

Stonington - Residents took to Facebook and other social media on Thursday to express their displeasure with the Board of Finance decision Wednesday to cut $663,213 of the proposed $1 million increase in the 2014-15 school budget.

The finance board also cut slightly more than $1 million in school-related capital improvements, many of which were security upgrades in the wake of the Newtown shootings. The finance board told school officials they could put the items into a separate bonding package.

"It is VERY discouraging to see this lack of educational support. We need a town leader who will stand up and say they support education and to show the outrage that the rest of the citizens are feeling today," posted Board of Education member Alisa Morrison on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page.

On Wednesday, school board Chairman Frank Todisco called the cut devastating and said it will result in additional reductions in staff and sports because almost all of the original increase was due to increases in employee raises, health insurance, fuel, electricity and special and magnet school education costs. The school board had already eliminated eight teaching positions through attrition as well as positions for five paraprofessionals and one computer technician.

The school board is slated to meet at 7 p.m. on March 27 at the high school to discuss what items it will have to now cut. The $34 million school budget will go to an April 10 public hearing at which residents could voice their opinions.

Board of Finance members said they needed to make the cuts to get the budget down to a level that voters will approve, in this case one with a 0.49-mill tax increase, the largest hike in six years.

On the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page Thursday, resident Wendy Bury posted "Help me understand ... if the annual increases in education and general government are fixed costs and the Town doesn't support (or will tolerate) tax increases, will we ever be able to invest in improvements? Are we maintaining status quo?"

Morrison responded, saying, "We can't. We are in a downward spiral. Forget even making improvements, we are laying off teachers, cutting athletics, etc. How can this be sustainable? And what does this say to people moving to the area?"

When Bury decried the lack of change, long-term planning, and investment in the town, Millie Donovan posted, "Then all of this is our own fault for continuing to think that things are fine just the way they are and not inspiring change from the top down."

When First Selectmen Ed Haberek announced the cut on his Facebook page Thursday night, Mystic middle school teacher Ellen Gilbert posted this in response: "It is very shortsighted to continue to rip apart the education system. What I fail to understand is how the erosion of our schools will benefit the town in the long run."

Peggy Sue Long added, "too bad so much $$ will be cut from the school dept. We purposely built a new home in the town of Stonington, because the SCHOOLS were so great!! Please don't let us down!"

Judy Baker Scully posted that "The craziness of a .49 mill rate increase is asinine when we are losing teachers and kids don't have textbooks that are up to date."

In the days before the finance board meeting, residents had already been criticizing the prospect of a cut.

"This town CANNOT balance the budget on the backs of our future our children! More folks will move to towns where education is a priority," posted Breck Perkins on the Stonington Community Forum page.

On The Day's website Thursday, a post by "Beckarina26" asked if the finance board was not "embarrassed by cutting security upgrades that are identified after the Newtown shootings?

"Very shortsighted - but the Finance Board appears to believe lower taxes are more important than the lives of Stonington's children," she wrote.

Others readers though pointed out the school budget is still receiving a $334,000 increase and that the school budget is only shouldering 41 percent of the cut while being responsible for 58 percent of the budget.

Rosa Anderson posted on the Stonington Community Forum Facebook page that if the town got rid of "the fluff" in the town budget there would be enough money to fund education.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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