Trumbull Town Council-approved $178.4M budget restores some schools funding
TRUMBULL — School supporters got the reprieve they were seeking following a pair of Town Council votes Thursday night.
Council members voted to add $224,000 from the General Fund to the Board of Education, which they then combined with anticipated savings in energy costs to arrive at a total of $500,000.
“This is called being creative,” said Deputy Majority Leader Thomas Whitmoyer, D-2nd. “This is called out-of-the-box.”
The vote to increase the school funding came after a previous vote to add $500,000 from the General Fund to the schools failed.
“We found $500,000, we’re just doing it in a different way,” said Majority Leader Jason Marsh, D-3rd.
The education votes were the most contentious of the nearly four-hour meeting that included scores of roll call votes — some on reductions of just a few hundred dollars. When all the accounts were tallied, the $178.49 million budget came in about $400,000 less then the one the Board of Finance approved in April and about $1.5 million less than First Selectman Vicki Tesoro had requested in March.
In the weeks since the finance board had approved its budget recommendation that allocated $108.8 million to Trumbull schools, hundreds of parents and teachers lobbied for the council to increase that figure. The school board had originally requested $110.9 million, and Tesoro had reduced that number to $109.3 million, a 2.53 percent increase from the current year’s $106.1 million package.
The council, by charter, is able to increase the finance board allotment up to Tesoro’s recommended level by a two-thirds vote.
As the council opened discussion on the school budget, Keith Klain, D-2nd, made a motion to restore the full $500,000 that would bring the Board of Education back up to Tesoro’s number. Even as he made the motion, he expressed his opinion that it still would short-change the schools.
“I don’t believe just restoring $500,000 to the budget is enough,” he said. “Any additional federal or state money or efficiencies should be added to cover the remaining funding gap.”
Stephen Lemoine, R-4th, agreed, saying the COVID-19 pandemic had put the schools in an unusual position with great uncertainty.
“Now is not the time to be cutting any portion of the education budget,” he said.
Marsh worried about the long-term impact of adding $500,000 back to the school budget.
“Painful as it may be, I recommend we realize the cost savings,” he said. “Putting more money into the Board of Education budget is not the wise move. They are getting a 2.53 percent increase at the height of a pandemic, when most towns are zeroing their Board of Education (budgets).”
Republican leader Carl Massaro, R-3rd, said the school budget was an unnecessarily stressful addition to the uncertainty the town already was facing.
“We should hold steady and eliminate as much consternation and risk as possible in the Board of Education,” he said. “We certainly need our public safety, and we’re fully funding all of that. The bottom line is I don’t want the Board of Education to struggle financially this fiscal year.”
Deputy Minority Leader Lori Roscasco Schwartz went a step further.
“I don’t know in good conscience we can do anything but restore their funding,” said Schwartz, R-3rd.
But the motion to add $500,000 from the General Fund to the schools failed, despite having support from 10 council members, with nine voting against and Joy Colon, D-4th, abstaining. Adding funds would have required a two-thirds vote, or 14 votes. Democrats William Mecca, Joanne Orenstein, Klain, Whitmoyer and unaffiliated council member Lisa Valenti, 4th, joined all five Republicans in voting yes.
Following the vote, Ashley Gaudiano, D-4th, moved to add $224,000 to the schools in what council members called a compromise solution.
“I too share your concerns,” she said. “It has been my goal to make sure the whole of $500,000 is filled, and also my goal that taxes remain stable.”
By restoring $224,000 to the school budget and combining that allocation with $274,000 in savings from refinancing some school loans, that brings the schools back up to Tesoro’s recommended level, she said.
The compromise $224,000 restoration passed by an 18-1-1 margin, with Tony Scinto, R-2nd, voting against it and Valenti abstaining.
Lemoine called the compromise “a slap in the face to every student, teacher and taxpayer in this town,” though he eventually voted in favor of it.
Scinto said it was ridiculous to dicker over the difference between restoring $224,000 or $500,000.
“That does not move the mill rate,” he said. “You’re moving the deck chairs.”
Orenstein, who had supported the larger allocation, reluctantly urged her colleagues to support Gaudiano’s plan.
“If we don’t vote for this $224,000 increase, it will revert to what the Board of Finance had,” she said.
Michael Miller, D-1st, said he supported what he called the compromise solution because it was the best of the unpleasant options the council had.
“The best thing we can do is compromise,” he said. “I don’t think it will be a compromise that anyone is happy with.”