Photo: Humberto J. Rocha / Hearst Connecticut Media
FAIRFIELD — The Board of Education, in a 6-3 vote, approved over $1.3 million in recommended cuts to software and capital projects at their May 21 in order to accommodate a budget reduction and increasing utility rates.
Superintendent Toni Jones, who heads for Greenwich at the end of next month, and the executive team recommended $1,337,263 in cuts to schools for the 2019-20 year.
Items that are part of the $1.3 million cut include Mindplay software, pupil service testing materials, pension contributions, snow maintenance removal, World Language K-2 software.
Additional reductions include a $20,000 cut originally destined for high school capital as well as legal fees and a maintenance lift.
As these items saw reductions, others saw an increase in funds due to new information and rising rates.
Paraprofessional salaries, electricity rates and insurance adjustments are some of the five items that are seeing a $687,263 increase as novel information has been provided to administrators.
Board of Education members discussed and debated the recommended cuts including two amendments that would have taken out $9,500 for the Math Academy program and $206,006 for Chromebooks for 6th graders proposed by board members Jeff Peterson and Trisha Pytko, respectively.
The amendment to eliminate the Math Academy failed in a 3-6 vote. The proposal to take out the money for the Chromebooks, however, elicited more conversation among board members and the public.
“Taking with a lot of parents of middle schoolers…I have gotten a lot of complaints and have heard from a lot of parents that (the Chromebooks) are a distraction,” Peterson said at the Tuesday meeting.
Other board members rebutted, saying the laptops were an important part of middle school education.
“None of our middle school principals… support removing (the 6th grade Chromebooks),” Jones said.
The amendment failed to pass in a 3-6 vote.
Ultimately the $1.3 million in adjustments were approved in a 6-3 vote where board members Pytko, Nick Aysseh and Jennifer Jacobsen voted against the recommended cuts.
The Board of Education in January had approved their own $182.3 million budget unanimously in what amounted to a 5 percent increase, the largest ask from the board in the last 10 years.
It was never going to be easy ever since First Selectman Mike Tetreau first proposed a $700,000 to the schools’ budget in February.
Jones and the board touted the budget as one that “focused on what matters” meaning that only half a percent was allocated to items that were not directly related to contract increases, utilities and maintenance projects.
The nearly million-dollar cut from Tetreau’s proposed budget worked its way through the Board of Finance and ultimately the Representative Town Meeting which approved the entire budget at its May 6 meeting.
In total, $181.7 million in funds were approved for schools, representing a 4.6 percent increase over the current fiscal year.
“Staff were very pleased as the majority of the Board of Education voted to support the recommendations put forth,” Jones said after the meeting.