A large collection of parents and teachers strongly urged the common council to increase school funding at a public hearing on the proposed city budget Tuesday night.
Nearly every speaker advocated for an increase in the city’s education budget. Many speakers stated that a larger budget would keep class sizes down and improve the technology offered by schools, and that students would better be able to develop and succeed in the classroom. They contended that better schools would help Middletown thrive and become more vibrant. Several citizens spoke about how having a strong budget would allow schools to continue offering valuable extra-curricular activities and athletics.
The Board of Education has requested a school budget of $77.2 million, an increase of 7.16 percent. Motives for this proposed increase include costs for teachers’ salaries and critical technology for all schools, state mandates for teacher certification and assessment, and tuition for students who attend magnet and charter schools. Mayor Daniel Drew responded to the request by proposing a budget of $75.55 million.
Resident Suzanne Tobin was one of the first speakers to ask the council to fully fund the board’s budget request. Tobin stated that cutting the budget would increase class sizes and cited studies that have revealed that students are negatively affected when placed in larger classes, particularly in the earliest grades.
“Grades K to 3 especially need a smaller class size … in order to flourish,” Tobin said.
Tobin also stated that continued budget cuts would have a negative long-term effect on Middletown. She received a strong show of support when she asked fellow citizens to raise their hands if they support a larger education budget.
Brian Kaskel spoke right after Tobin. Kaskel read a passionate speech in which he said that the common council could help Middletown tremendously by approving a larger education budget that could improve the school system.
“It would be a huge feather in your cap to pass a budget that would lead to an improved school system with better technology and a smaller (education) gap to bridge,” Kraskel said.
There was a large contingent of teachers and coaches present, several of whom came up and spoke. A couple of elementary school teachers discussed how budget cuts and layoffs would hurt teachers’ ability to help students . Sue Wesoloski, a teacher at Snow Elementary School, bluntly summed up these statements.
“Right now we do have a crisis. It's a crisis of money," Wesoloski said. "Cutting back on teachers is probably the easiest thing to do, but it's probably the worst."
Trevor Charles teaches at the high school and coaches three sports teams. Charles stated that the budget needs to be increased, and that taking away funding from athletics and cutting junior varsity and freshman teams would unfairly harm student athletes. He said that sports help students mature as people both on the field and in the classroom, and that sports and other extracurricular activities make students more invested in school and ultimately helps improve their work in the classroom.
Middletown High senior Gregory Gaylord, who plays for Charles on the Ultimate Frisbee team, discussed the lessons he has learned in competing in cross country, hockey and Ultimate for the Blue Dragons. Gaylord said that he has gained leadership skills as an athlete, and particularly singled out the spirit of competition he learned from ultimate, calling it “overwhelming.”
School board Chairman Eugene Nocera was very happy with the support residents and teachers expressed for the board’s budget.
“It's reassuring to us that we have teachers' and parents' and community support," Nocera said. "We're going to advocate for what we need and we hope the budget lands in a place where we can continue to grow."
The council will set a final budget for the fiscal year at its meeting on May 15. Both parties plan to hold caucuses in the next two weeks to determine how to successfully balance the budget.