Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Superintendent Presents 2017-2018 Budget To Common Council Members
Full disclosure, as a former chair of the BOE Budget Committee, I know how few people are willing to come out and slog through the details of a complex budget, and this was a departure from the norm.
But at Woodrow Wilson Middle School on Tuesday evening, School Superintendent Michael Conner presented his first budget to invited Common Council members, and an interested crowd.
Republican members of the Council were in attendance (Seb Giuliano, Deb Kleckowsky, Linda Salafia), as were members of the Democratic party (Gene Nocera, Grady Faulkner, Carl Chisem). Absent were Democratic leader Tom Serra, Deputy mayor Bob Santangelo and other Democratic council member Mary Bartolotta. Democratic council members Gerry Daley and Rob Blanchard were facing off in Hartford at a State Central Democratic party hearing on the controversial DTC slate. Republican council member Phil Pessina was also absent.
Conner made a cogent plea for a 2.2% increase in the operating budget. Conner made it clear that the budget he was presenting was based on education strategy and goals he has developed after month of meeting with stakeholders in private and community meetings.
Conner's budget completely separates the operational budget which, in his argument, covers the cost of contractural, facilities, technology, staff development and special education costs with grant dollars going to support strategic educational goals and improvements.
Conner outlined his ambitious goals for closing the achievement gap, weaving equity as a major value into the system, and raising the educational bar for all students.
Council member Gene Nocera was the first to respond to the budget proposal saying that he was in full support.
"But I'm only one seat on the Council," Nocera said. His support was quickly seconded by Council member Carl Chisem.
On the Republican side, Council member Giuliano was lukewarm to the proposed budget increase indicating that the grand list, while increasing because of the new construction at the FedEx facility, was not increasing enough to cover city costs, and that taxpayers would be facing tax hardships. His concern was shared by Council member Kleckowsky who explained that she was questioned frequently by residents on fixed incomes about the need to avoid increase in taxes.
Board of Education members Lisa Loomis and Sean King praised Conner's budget and educational goals. King noted that the the 2.2% increase to the operational budget was in line with increases in recent previous years and that Middletown's share of educational costs was less than in Connecticut cities of similar size.
"I invite you to attend our budget hearings so you can understand the needs of other city departments," Kleckowsky said.
Conner listened to the concerns but stood firm in the need to have the necessary increases to create the kind of schools and education that would make Middletown a place that people would want to move to.
In addition, Conner explained that he had spent two months listening to residents, parents and educators and that they were telling him that they wanted to see change and improvement in the schools.
"The community has told me they want this," Conner said. "If you're saying you can't support it, then you're saying you can't support what the community wants."