A standing room only crowd showed up at Madison Town Campus Wednesday night for the Board of Education's and Board of Selectmen's Budget Public Hearing.
Madison Public School Superintedent Thomas Scarice presented a budget with a 3.51 percent increase, to $52,434,769 from $50,658,826. First Selectman Fillmore McPherson presented a town budget seeking $22,267,000 for the coming year, a 4.95 percent increase over last year's $21,217,817. The total town and Board of Education budget being proposed is up 3.93 percent, to $74,702,000, up from $71,876,644.
There were several dozen people in attendance, including about seven or eight people that had to initially stand out in the hallway. Selectman Al Goldberg went out into the hallway and said he would try to find them seats. "This is your meeting," he said. He ushered them into the room, offering them seats on tables, and squeezing a few more chairs inside. Some of the school and town employees also offered their seats so other members of the public could sit.
Full day K proposal prompts many comments from public
Scarice and McPherson outlined new initiatives, non-discretionary items, and state mandates that prompted the budget increases.
Of all of the items discussed, the Board of Education's proposal for full-day kindergarten garnered the most attention from a standing room only crowd of parents, other town residents, and town employees at Conference Room A at Town Campus.
Madison resident Michael Fortuin was the first to get up during the public comment section of the meeting. He urged town officials to "take 5 percent out" of the budget, saying that his experience with budgets taught him that most budgets can be trimmed by that amount without harming programs. He later stood up and added that he was in favor of full day kindergarten, and that his experience volunteering in Hamden schools showed him that young students who had full day kindergarten tended to do better in school.
"Madison deserves nothing less"
Dave Anderson was the next to speak about full day kindergarten. "Madison deserves nothing less," he said.
Michele Schmidt said the same. She said people move to Madison because "it's a beautiful place and it has fabulous schools. She is a teacher in another school district and she said that students who have had full day kindergarten are better prepared for school.
The room erupted in applause whenever someone spoke in favor of full day kindergarten. Board of Finance Chairman Jennifer Tung asked the attendees to hold their applause so that the meeting would end on time.
Not so rushed ...
Jessica Bowler said many parents feel compelled to seek private full day kindergarten options, because it's better for their children. She said that students with full day kindergarten don't feel as if they have to rush through the day. She also noted that this proposal for full day kindergarten costs less than earlier proposals.
Susan Newman said even the youngest students are called upon to grasp material that is complex, and so kindergarten students who have a two and a half hour day will lose ground to those who have a five hour day. "There is not much room for debate," she said, about the benefits of full day kindergarten. She said many of the state's poorest districts have full day kindergarten, and that many of the state's wealthiest districts do as well. "By not implementing [full day kindergarten] our students start school not on a level playing field," she said.
Katie Volz stood up and said, "Hey Michelle, I think I bought your house." She said she did not know that Madison did not have full day kindergarten when she moved here and that it might have affected her decision. She said she was glad she didn't know, because she loves living in Madison, but that an added benefit of full day kindergarten, in addition to the clear benefit for students, is that it will make the town more attractive to young parents as well, possibly benefiting property values.
"Go full day K"
Grace Brueckner agreed. "Go full-day K," she said, smiling, to laughter from the other attendees. She then asked about some energy efficiency measures outlined by McPherson, which cost $222,000. She asked if the town had calculated savings that might accrue from those measures. McPherson asked Facilities Director Bill McMinn to respond. McMinn said that it varied according to the project and that he did not have any specific information available at the meeting, on when the projects would start to pay for themselves.
In addition to full day kindergarten, Superintendent Scarice went into great detail about the vision behind the Board of Education 2013-2014 budget. He said the essential questions for the school district is whether it is preparing students "for the world they will enter when they graduate," and whether "we are focused on the right work."
A draft of the vision statement being developed by school officials talks about "educating citizens who contribute productively and humanely in a complex, global society. We are driving by a mission that envisions learning as joyful and learners as passionate ... " Critical thinking, collaboration, the ability to deal with both success and failure "with dignity, fortitude, reflection," and making "ethical and responsible decisions" are emphasized.
"The wrong bet for children"
Scarice talked about the historical role of public education, which was created during the Industrial Revolution with an eye to creating people who would do well on assembly lines. Rote memorization and measurable results were considered paramount. He quoted experts who say that currently is the "wrong bet" for children, linking it to what is needed in the current job market. Instead of memorizing lists of facts, students need the ability to be creative and problem solve, he said.
Moving on to the numbers, he said the 2013-2014 operational budget would increase by 1.84 percent under the proposed budget. This budget would provide for full day kindergarten, the continuation of a technology plan, and continued innovations in mathematics, and language arts programs, he said.
The operational budget line items include
- general education, up 1.16 percent to $30.33 million
- special education/student services, up 5.58 percent to $7.67 million
- school facilities/daily services, up 0.49 percent to $4.84 million
- school facilities/emergency maintenance, which remains flat at $50,000
The total operational budget requested for 2013-2014 is $42.88 million, with an increase of $776,145 or 1.84 percent.
The comprehensive budget, which includes the operational budget, and a number of other line items, would increase 3.51 percent.
The comprehensive budget line items include
- planned and cycled maintenance, which remains flat at $237,938
- self funded health insurance, up 13.39 percent to $6.65 million
- debt service/interest on school bonds, which will drop 1.14 percent to $675,44
- debt service/principal, which will increase 12.59 percent to $1.99 million
The total comprehensive budget requested for 2013-2014 is $52.43 million, up 3.51 percent or $1.78 million.
Putting a rumor to rest
Scarice also put to rest the rumor that "student enrollment has dropped, but staffing hasn't." An evaluation of staffing changes from the 2010-2011 school year through 2013-2014 shows 1 certified staff position has been eliminated for every 17.9 students that have been eliminated. Student enrollment has dropped by a total of 394 students during that period, while certified staff has dropped by 22 during that same time, he said. "Well before I got here, the district was responsible about reducing staff," he said.
Scarice also outlined the many unfunded and partially funded educational mandates on the state and federal level, including special education initiatives, the Office of Civil Rights Census, student success plans, the in-school suspension provision and the family and medical leave act, among others.
He said he wasn't passing judgement on them, and wasn't saying they were good or bad, but, rather, that they all had to be taken in consideration when crafting the budget.
Emergency preparedness and rebuilding reserves
First Selectman Fillmore McPherson went next and outlined the town of Madison requested budget. For the town budget:
- town operations would increase 3.27 percent, or $519,000 to $16.404 million
- town reserve funds would increase 14.6 percent, or $531,000 to $4.164 million
- town debt service would stay flat at about $1.699 million
The total town budget would increase 4.95 percent, or $1.049 million to $22.267 million.
Particular areas of focus this year are emergency preparedness and rebuilding capital reserves, McPherson said. Items related to emergency preparedness account for 22.2 percent of the requested increase, capital reserves account for 9.6 percent of the increase, and non-discretionary items including wages, benefits, insurance, and revaluation account for 66.1 percent of the increase, McPherson said.
Importance of town's financial health
McPherson said rebuilding capital reserves is a critical part of maintaining the town's strong financial standing and financial health.
The town is proposing increases in capital reserve funds including the following:
- Police vehicles, $36,000
- Madison Hose Co. No. 1 truck and equipment, 50,000
- North Madison Fire Department $31,641
- Ambulance, $25,000
- LOCAP, $33,213
- Technology, $15,000
- Town vehicles, $22,500
- Town roads, 30,000
Emergency preparedness items being funded include fire hydrants and fire mains, hazardous tree removal, and supplies for emergencies including costs, MREs, and barricades.
Non-discretionary item increases include
- health care, $286,916
- wages and salaries, $178,666
- pensions, $159,375
- reevaluation, $20,100
- workers comp/disability, $18,929
- general insurance, $18,163
- social security, $12,000
Budget now goes to the Board of Finance for review
The budget now goes to the Board of Finance, which will give it further review and then recommend a budget for consideration at another public hearing. After that public hearing, additional adjustments to the budget will be made, if warranted, and it will then be presented to voters at a referendum.
The Board of Finance will start its revew Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Hammonasset Room of town campus, and will start with the Board of Education budget. After a series of review meetings, the Board of Finance recommended budget is due March 21.
The next budget public hearing is Monday, April 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Polson Middle School, and the recommended referendum date is May 14. The complete schedule is posted as a PDF with this article.
All meetings are open and the public is welcome to attend.
Editor's Note: The sub-headline on this article was corrected on Friday, Feb. 15 around 7:20 a.m. to accurately reflect the total amount of the town budget.