The School Board voted Wednesday to scrap a preliminary budget that sought to eliminate or restructure the district’s kindergarten and pre-K programs and raise taxes to patch a funding gap.
The unanimous vote came after the board approved notifications that it may furlough both professional and support staff in the wake of reduced state funding.
A budget must be approved within 30 days of June 13.
“It’ll be a long couple months,” board president Marilyn Messina said.
Messina said she doesn’t support a tax increase or eliminating kindergarten education but is willing to rethink how they are run.
“I just can’t do that as an educator,” Messina said. “Modifications—yes. But a total cut-out, no.”
Tara Reis, a board member who also opposes the program cuts, said they would save the district more than $1 million. But she’s not convinced it’s the best option.
“I definitely think we need to look elsewhere,” Reis said.
Board members were united in their rejection of a tax increase that would raise the rate approximately .6 mills to 26.21, or $2,621 for a home valued at $100,000.
“I’m trying to get the state to recognize,” said board member Robert Tomasic, “you can’t rely on local taxpayers.”
A certified public accountant by trade, Tomasic said the district includes many low-income households and doesn’t have the revenue pool to make up for reduced state funding. It’s only wealthy communities that can handle such cuts, he said.
“We’re forced to educate children that there’s no tax base for,” he said, adding that families may have to consider rudimentary education as their responsibilities.
Amid uncertainty, the district is continuing to enroll students in kindergarten.
Assistant Superintendent Alan Johnson noted higher than average registration at and elementary schools in the past week.
“It’s still an issue that’s very much open for discussion,” Johnson said.
Another reason board members cited for rejecting the budget was that it assumed administrative employees covered under Act 93 would agree to a pay freeze, as they did last year. But board member Collen Filiak reported that those employees want a 2-percent raise.
Such a raise set off Tomasic, who butted heads with his colleagues throughout the evening on a number of issues, some unrelated to the budget proposal. Regarding raises, Tomasic said he’d rather see money going toward classroom education.
“I don’t know how people can’t recognize that this country has a serious financial problem,” Tomasic said. “Go out and meet with some of these people who are struggling. I can’t accept it anymore.”
Filiak said the administrators have a contractual right to negotiate wages. It is unclear whether they’ll ask for the raise in the next proposal.
With the wrangling over finances, members decided to send a letter to state legislators urging them to provide more funding for K-12 education. But Tomasic, for one, isn’t rosy about the likelihood they’ll find money for schools.
“You can write all the letters you want,” Tomasic said.