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New London - As the City Council's Finance Committee began its department-by-department review of the mayor's proposed budget Thursday evening, some councilors indicated a willingness to further increase the budget for the city's schools.
Last week, the Board of Education approved a budget of $41,177,450 for fiscal year 2015 - an increase of 1.9 percent over its current budget.
The overall budget increase was determined based on increases expected in salaries, health insurance, transportation and out-of-district placements. Board member Mirna Martinez cast the lone vote against the board's budget and advocated for a larger increase in funding for the city's schools.
"I totally agree with this budget and the 1.9 percent increase, but I also have to say that I have to agree with Ms. Martinez that that is really not enough," Council President Wade A. Hyslop Jr. said Thursday during the committee's review of the board's budget.
Councilor Erica Richardson also spoke in support of adding funding to the education budget if it would allow the school system to add a guidance counselor at the middle school, which currently has just one counselor for its roughly 600 students.
"That is a transitional period in a child's life that requires much more direction than any other time, whether it's elementary or high school," Richardson said. "If you're going to start them on the path to college, they need to be able to talk to someone."
Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer said the district would like to be able to provide additional psychological support for students and said he would provide the council with estimates of how much that additional support might cost.
"I just would like to see those figures," Hyslop said. "I'm not saying that we're going to move in that area, but at least we might have some leeway to do something if at all possible."
Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said he, too, would support a greater increase in the education budget if it meant the district could add those services.
"If the council saw fit to increase this request to adjust for those costs, I would support it as well," Finizio said. "I think this is a budget that stabilizes the department, but really, honestly, I think we do need to be doing more than just stabilizing."
On Tuesday, Finizio presented his proposed budget of $87,128,467 in spending - an increase of 7.24 percent over the current year's budget - which he said "pulls us out of the hole, stabilizing our tax rate and our services."
In his budget, the mayor proposed a fire department budget of just more than $6.3 million, an increase of about $769,000 over the current budget. The Finance Committee also reviewed that budget Thursday.
Fire Chief Henry Kydd said the budget is not "the ideal budget."
"But it represents an accurate and true request for funding and there is no room to reduce this budget any further," Kydd said. "Additional reductions will have a direct effect on the fire department's ability to provide the same level of services we are currently providing."
The Finance Committee will hold two more budget review sessions, at 5 p.m. on April 10 and 14 at City Hall.