Trumbull parents lobby council for school funding
TRUMBULL — Unanimity ruled during the Town Council Finance Committee’s 90-minute public comment session Saturday morning: restore school funding.
“The Board of Education is facing an uphill battle, and any little bit that can be added back will help,” said Amy Lehaney, Middlebrook Elementary School’s PTA president, one of dozens of residents who logged on to comment to committee members.
The school system was already facing a tough budget year because of an estimated $400,000 funding shortfall which forced Interim Superintendent Ralph Iassogna to institute a series of austerity measures and make a number of reductions in the schools’ $110.97 million 2020-21 budget proposal.
First Selectman Vicki Tesoro reduced the amount of the school allocation to $109.3 million, which represented a $3.18 million funding increase from the current year but was short of the $4.84 million hike the school board was seeking.
But in the time between Tesoro’s proposal and the Board of Finance vote, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, and the board made achieving a zero tax increase budget its top priority. Members achieved this — in part — by trimming another $500,000 from the school budget.
At Saturday’s meeting, the Finance Committee listened as one caller after another, many of whom were teachers, parents of students or both, plead for the committee to recommend restoring Tesoro’s initial amount. The Town Council will vote on the budget May 21, and can increase budget items to Tesoro’s recommended levels by a two-thirds vote.
Some of the participants in the budget hearing acknowledged the council was in a no-win situation.
“You must make the impossible (choice) to decimate the schools because people are struggling, or ask those who are struggling to pay a little more,” said Sarah Boras.
But if the speakers sympathized with the committee members, they also were unequivocal that the schools needed more money.
Cat Lamy, a member of the PTSA Council, urged the committee to restore the $500,000 to the budget.
“I realize it will not solve all of this, but this is not a time to reduce funding,” she said.
Katelyn Southard, a business teacher at Trumbull High School who was one of the staff members to receive a pink slip because of the original cuts, said she could not imagine how the schools would fare with the proposed funding decrease.
“I’ve seen the impact these cuts are having on my students,” she said. “One less teacher means less opportunity, larger class sizes and fewer student clubs.”
Tashua PTA President Frank Squiccimarro noted that educators had compared instituting distance learning programs to building a plane while also flying it. By cutting the school budget request, he said, Trumbull was “trying to fly a plane and dismantle it at the same time.”
Trumbull Teachers Association President John Mastrianni noted that the school system’s current budget situation existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, and was not the fault of the teachers or the students.
“Please do not play a political game with our students or our professionals,” he said.
Mike Buswell added that the budget was the result of years of underfunding.
“Town leaders constantly want more, but fail to provide resources,” he said.
Penny Ploski agreed, saying that students returning to school in the fall would need more resources and support, not less.
“I do not think this should be put on the backs of teachers, to take pay freezes or cuts,” she said.
Several speakers pointed out that teachers had stepped up when confronted with the unprecedented need to abandon buildings and classrooms in favor of distance learning. The staff, which had put distance learning in place on-the-fly, should not be rewarded with job cuts, they said.
“We could not have done this without the tech staff,” said Trumbull High teacher Cathy Rubano. “Many of them are now being cut.”
But after hearing from dozens of speakers, parent Garrett Covino, who had the shortest remarks, may have summed up the mood of the speakers the best.
“It’s because of these amazing educators that my children continue to thrive,” he said. “Fully fund our schools and let’s get back to business.”