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Parents Urge Board of Finance to Leave Proposed Education Budget Intact

March 28, 2016 Budget, Government, Schools No Comments
At the recent Board of Finance public hearing, several parents add their support for the education budget. Photo by John Fitts

At the recent Board of Finance public hearing, several parents add their support for the education budget.
Photo by John Fitts

CANTON – A group of parents did their best last week to send a message as the Board of Finance prepares to deliberate on proposed 2016-2017 spending levels.

“I’m here tonight to ask the Board of Finance to accept the Board of Education budget with no further cuts,” Canton parent Andrea Barber said at a budget hearing last week. It was a sentiment echoed by many.

The Board of Finance hearing was to gather input on the proposed 2016-2017 budgets, especially the Board of Education and Board of Selectmen spending plans.

The Board of Education has proposed a budget of $25,266,699, a $364,903 or 1.47 percent increase over the 2015-2016 approved budget of $24,901,796.

The Board of Selectmen has proposed a 2016-2017 budget of $10,350,064, which would represent an increase of 3.68 percent over the 2015-2016 approved spending levels of $9,982,815.

While there was some support for the Board of Selectmen plan, education dominated the discussion, particularly in the area of class size. It’s been an issue for some time now.

In his proposed 2016-2017 budget, Superintendent Kevin D. Case recommended the district fund 5 third-grade teachers (There are currently 6). While the current second graders are spread throughout 5 “sections,” several parents advocated for six, stating that 18 and 19 in a room is actually dramatically different from 22 and 23 when it comes to space, social needs, individual attention and more. Soon, the Board of Education will consider Case’s proposal to fund that the position be funded from the Open Choice grant, monies the district receives for integrating Hartford students into its classrooms.

While that position is not in the budget plan before the Board of Finance, school officials have shown that further reductions would likely mean the elimination of a fourth-grade teacher, potentially putting that grade in a similar position. The Board of Education’s policy allows for as many as 26 in a classroom but parents remain passionate about the lower sizes. (The Board of Education has also agreed to revisit that policy).

At the hearing Thursday, approximately 30 parents came out to support the education budget and several spoke.

Tracy Renaud said the current third graders have 19 to 20 in class but with one less teacher would have 23 to 24, even more if additional families move to town.

Fourth-grade is already a year of transition and next year will involve a challenging new math program, she said.

“As a parent, as many in the room know, that trying to help your children learn common core math is not easy,” she said.

She also argued that a trend to larger class sizes would keep parents from moving into town, ultimately hurting local businesses as well.

“Our schools are Canton’s biggest asset,” Renaud said.

Barber, a former elementary school teacher, also urged the Board of Finance to leave the budget intact.

“The difference between a class of 19 and 20 and a class of 23 or 24 or more if new families move into town may not seem like a big deal but ask any educator and they will tell you it can be huge,” she said. “It effects instruction each and every day.”

Challenges come in the areas of social, emotional and educational needs, she said, stating that students  struggling will be left behind and those who need to be challenged won’t be

“Larger classes will result in burned out teachers and students that aren’t getting their needs met in a way that our Canton students deserve,” she said. “Yes, they will get through the year and the fantastic teachers that are left will do their best, but we can do better.”

Several other speakers also spoke and at least two parents shared emotional stories on how larger sizes have not been positive for their students. One said he even considered a private school option and another said a current teacher acknowledged she didn’t know her student as well as she should.

John Mason called the education plan a conservative one. He said there is something to be said for budget creativity but argued that lean budgets are starting to challenge the school system. He encouraged education members to speak more strongly and asked the finance board to keep their budget intact.

“I would ask the Board of Finance members to also have the courage to honor what I think is an unfortunately conservative budget, yet again, submitted by the Board of Education,” Mason said.

In addition to those who spoke at the meeting, several attendees took advantage of Board of Finance chairman Brian First’s offer to sign a sheet indicating their support for the Board of Education budget.

While education dominated the discussion, at least two speakers spoke in favor of keeping the selectmen’s budget intact.

Ben Holden addressed the selectmen’s budget specifically.

“I’m here to support unadulterated, uncut, unvarnished, the selectmen’s budget for the coming year,” he said.

Holden also said the finance board has cut too much in recent years.

“For the past number of years, as long as I’ve been in town, every year the Board of Finance cuts like the meat clever an amount of money, and tells the Board of Selectmen you guys figure out where to cut it; we don’t care; we just make it go away,” he said.

Holden specifically advocated for the town’s Dial A Ride Service. Under the current budget proposal, that service is due to increase five hours per week, at a cost of $9,600 with one half hour of additional service at the beginning and end of each weekday.

Holden said he’s been turned down for rides 15 times since May of last year due to the popularity of the service. The additional hours would help greatly, he added.

The Board of Finance took no action at the hearing and will deliberate during a Workshop meeting on April 6.

First said the board will consider several factors, including the current proposals and the town’s debt services, funds it needs to pay yearly for bonded projects such as roads, roofs and the multi-use track and field facility.

“We do develop a long-range view of the budget,” he said near the beginning of the meeting. “We look out over many years and try to predict those kid of expenses that we’ll have and we do keep that in mind as we set each annual budget. So that will be part of our deliberations at the budget workshop as well as balancing the needs of all the taxpayers and community members in Canton.”

After setting a proposed budget for the entire town, the Board of Finance will send a mailer to residents. The Annual Town Budget meeting is set to take place at 7 p.m. on May 2 in the High School Auditorium.

By town charter, appropriations can be potentially decreased but not be increased at the annual budget meeting. 150 qualified voters must attend for a vote to be valid. If the budget were to fail at the meeting, the finance board would make adjustments and present it again.

If there are fewer than 150 qualified voters at the meeting or that number of residents petition ahead of time, the budget would be decided at a referendum.

See more on the proposed budgets at

http://www.townofcantonct.org/content/19180/20369/20371/default.aspx

cantonschools.org

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