Ledyard school board adopts budget with 1.7 percent increase, cuts culinary arts teacher

Ledyard — After much lively discussion and a vote on an alternative option, the Board of Education elected to adopt the superintendent's proposed 2018-19 budget as-is by a 5-3 vote at a meeting Thursday night. 

The proposed budget of $31.8 million represents a 1.7 percent increase over the previous year and includes the reduction of 3.5 full-time certified positions, two of which would be reallocated to help address increased enrollment at the elementary schools.

The board's adoption of the budget means it will now go to the mayor, where it will be packaged with the overall budget that will go before the Town Council.

Reaction to the proposed budget has been mixed since its introduction earlier this month, with some arguing that the schools already have been cut too greatly regardless of the town's fiscal situation. Those divisions remained on display Thursday evening, with the board actually voting on two different budgets with the same total dollar amount.

At the heart of much of the tension Thursday — and most of the discussion — was the fact that the superintendent's proposed budget eliminated one of the consumer sciences teachers at the high school. Or, more precisely, culinary arts teacher Keith Caron.

Currently, Ledyard High School has two teachers focusing on the consumer sciences curriculum, one of whom exclusively teaches culinary arts classes. Under the proposed budget, that teacher would be eliminated. But the culinary arts classes would still be offered, with fewer sections based on student demand, with the other teacher.

Several speakers on Thursday night reaffirmed their support for maintaining the culinary arts teacher, and the board also received more than a dozen letters speaking to the issue, as well.

"It seems he is the kind of teacher that everyone dreams of having," Board Member Bill Snyder said of Caron. "It is truly heartbreaking."

Although Snyder ultimately voted to adopt the budget that eliminated Caron's position, he expressed a sentiment that was seemingly shared by all board members. Many said the decision was particularly difficult because it was challenging to separate the position being eliminated from the person who fills it: a man who all board members said is a great teacher who is tremendously valuable to the community.

However, it seemed like the cut that would do the least amount of damage to programming, some members said.

Still, support for Caron was so strong that the board did vote on an alternative budget that would retain the position.

Board member Stephanie Calhoun proposed voting on a different budget with the same $31.8 million cost, that also retained the culinary arts teacher by reallocating funds that would be used in unemployment pay, as well as funds designated for hiring consultants to assist with the town's school redistricting effort and middle school scheduling work.

That proposal was voted on and failed by a 3-5 vote, with many of the members who voted against the measure expressing concern that the redistricting and scheduling work required the expertise and manpower of outside consultants. Members also expressed concern that there was not adequate time for an ad-hoc committee or the superintendent's administration to do the work instead.

c.clark@theday.com

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