Hundreds want $663,213 restored to Stonington school budget

Stonington - More than 670 people have signed an online petition at www.change.org that calls on the Board of Finance to restore the $663,213 it cut from the school budget last week.

In addition, those who have signed the petition by the schools' PTOs are also calling on the board to restore the slightly more than $1 million in school-related capital improvements, many of which are security upgrades in the wake of the Newtown shootings.

"Failing to properly fund our schools is incredibly short-sighted public policy. We are already perceived as having inferior schools to other nearby towns because of the cutting that's gone on in previous years. Young families are turning away from Stonington as a place to live. These are people who would bring talent, wealth and community involvement to our town - and we are effectively saying they are not welcome, because we will not invest in their children. Stonington still has some amazing teachers and educators - please support them in the great work that they do," wrote parent Harriet Statchen in the comments attached to her signature.

Danielle Cooper of Pawcatuck posted that her son attends West Vine Street School.

"What a huge disservice to all the students in the Stonington Public School System!!! We are seriously considering moving to another school district, which is sad to say. A town that doesn't value the future of America and the success of its youngest members should be ashamed!!" she wrote.

The petition comes as the Board of Education meets at 7 p.m. Thursday at the high school to hear Superintendent of Schools Van Riley recommend what items should be eliminated from the school budget to meet the $663,213 cut.

Board of Education Chairman Frank Todisco has said the cut will result in 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 $34 million school budget will go to an April 10 public hearing at which residents could voice their opinions. Board of Finance members have said the cuts are needed 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.

But the petition states that the original 2.96 percent increase in the school budget is fiscally responsible given the average over the past eight years has been 2.79 annually.

It adds that further reductions in teachers would mean increasing class sizes beyond the current 19 to 23 students as well as no money for new textbooks or curriculum materials.

"Classes are already short and students share, go without, or use old editions," it states.

The signers are also calling on the finance board to not only support the security items but a five-year replacement plan for technology upgrades "to provide the tools our teachers need to enhance learning," $50,000 to design the elementary school renovation and expansion project and funding for roof, electric, plumbing, and other repairs to the schools.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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