Ledyard Board of Education votes to cut school staff, activities

Despite rampant criticism from the school community, the Board of Education voted Wednesday to cut nearly half a million dollars from its proposed 2014-15 budget, eliminating multiple staff members and extracurricular activities.

The Town Council's directive to reduce the school budget by $495,000 came two days after dozens of concerned residents, many of whom said they simply could not afford an 8 percent tax hike, came forward at a public hearing.

With $123,000 in additional cuts to the general government budget, the final budget proposal totals $52.7 million and requires a 6 percent tax rate increase of 1.75 mills.

The remaining increase in the proposed school budget is $535,898, a 1.8 percent increase.

Boys' swimming, golf, freshman boys' soccer, and the high school newspaper all got the axe Wednesday night - programs deemed either cost-inefficient or having low participation numbers.

Nine tutors, two paraprofessionals, two teachers and one secretary will be laid off.

Other cuts include a magnet school bus, some in-town bus runs, and the delay of a technology purchase.

In the two weeks since Strickland first proposed these cuts to the board, a couple of changes were made, including the restoration of $22,000 to various supply accounts in exchange for cutting an additional part-time middle school science teacher.

Comments from a full audience in the high school media center included impassioned pleas from parents who saw their children's lives and prospects changed by sports; complaints over "nickel-and-diming" individual line items; and spirited speeches by students in Colonel gear promising fundraisers to cover the costs of their clubs.

"There's a lot of stuff that means a lot to everyone here," said senior Dan Candler, a member of this year's golf team. "You have no idea who (it) could be impacting."

Mike France, chairman of the town's Finance Committee, encouraged the board not to make the final decision on cuts Wednesday night, and to take more time to consider other cost-saving options.

France exceeded the allotted three minutes for public comments, causing some friction when he stepped back up to the podium to continue speaking after another audience member offered him her time to raucous applause.

Finance Committee Chairman Gordon Strickland defended the district's administrators, whose salaries several members of the community have questioned over the past few months.

Strickland said the current administration is the "most efficient and effective force" the district can have.

"When you look at what the job is, it just cannot be done by a smaller staff," he said.

He also noted that this is the first time in "a very long time" that the board is proposing cuts to extracurricular activities. But with nine layoffs occurring as a result of the cuts, Strickland said, he would rather cut all of the activities than cut the teaching staff.

Board members had their own criticisms to volley back at the audience, asking those with suggestions why they did not come forward when the finance committee began crafting the budget months ago.

"Everybody waits until the night that it comes down to the wire to make the cut," Strickland said.

Seven board members voted in favor of the cuts; board member Joan Disco abstained.

The board encouraged the audience to petition the Town Council during the summer - after the start of the next fiscal year - to make a supplemental appropriation to restore the extracurricular activities. Strickland said the town would save more in insurance costs for the laid-off staff than the combined total of the activities cuts.

"You have been given an opportunity. You have the potential to get back what it is that you desire," Cronin said. "Carry that passion. Carry that desire forward. Show your support for the great programs we have."

a.isaacs@theday.com

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