New London school board weighs asking for budget increase

New London - The Board of Education held a special meeting Thursday to discuss its proposed 2012-13 budget.

While the board has yet to approve the $42.9 million spending plan, board members said they are in favor of presenting to the City Council a budget with a 6 percent, $3.2 million increase over this year's $39.8 million budget.

Because the council has flat-funded the city's schools for the past four years, board members hope the council will agree to the increase.

The increase would restore many of the teaching, paraprofessional, art, music and other positions slated to be cut if the council opts for a zero percent increase again.

"The past four years we've been flat funded, and it has hurt the system tremendously," board member Margaret Curtin said. "If we want any results coming out of the school system, we should support any budget that gives resources to our teachers and principals."

High school teacher Fredricka Gunther encouraged the board to find other places to make their cuts if the council votes against a 6 percent increase.

"At a time when so much is expected of the teachers, it's a bad time to start cutting music, art, library and paraprofessionals. They're so important," she said. "You absolutely cannot cut those people. Look deeper in the budget to find other cuts."

Residents, parents and teachers in the school district used the public comment period to ask the board to carefully evaluate where cuts will be made.

Renee Reis, a literacy coach at Jennings Elementary School, approached the board with her concerns about the proposed elimination of the district's literacy supervisor.

"Without this position, literacy in New London will suffer … . Any literacy growth that has happened in New London can be linked directly with the literacy supervisor," she said.

The district's literacy supervisor is Grace Ann Conti. Her position is slated to be cut if the schools are flat-funded. According to budget documents, Conti's salary is $116,998.

If the position is cut, the assistant superintendent of schools would assume Conti's duties. "We are in real trouble when the number one priority in our district improvement plan is literacy, and we have to cut it because of our budget," Conti said. "If we're going to cut literacy, we're cutting out our children's ability to succeed."

The school district is expecting to receive an additional $792,821 in Education Cost Sharing funds from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposed increases to school districts statewide.

The addition of that money would reduce the impact of cuts from 10 percent to 7.6 percent.

"I like 6 percent the way it looks," board member Jason Catala said. "If we don't get the 6 percent, I would recommend that the board makes the cuts in the appropriate places. We need to cut from the top."

A public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The school board is expected to submit its budget to the City Council March 15.


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