Education supporters make plea for budget restoration

A handful of school supporters, most wearing pale green “Education is the Foundation” buttons, made their pleas for full restoration of Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gary Cialfi’s budget before the Finance Committee of the Town Council’s Budget Hearing last Thursday evening.

Committee Chair Mark LeClair opened the meeting, telling the half-full Town Hall Council Chamber that speakers could ask only that the budget be returned to the amount approved by First Selectman Tim Herbst, as per the town’s charter, and that each speaker would be limited to two minutes.

Nine of the ten speakers talked solely to the education budget. And all sought the $100.3 million budget Dr. Cialfi recommended to the Board of Education restored.

That budget was reduced by $377,000 by the Board of Education, then, as a part of the transfer of health insurance plans of board employees to the town budget, First Selectman Tim Herbst restored the reduction and rounded the increase up to $400,000.

PTSA Council President Jen Kehley told the board she was “advocating on behalf of our students” and made the most comprehensive request, calling a list of items removed from the Superintendent’s budget “essential,” and requesting the return of funding for curriculum development and writing; for the three technology integration specialists to the elementary schools; for additional advanced placement classes and SAT tutoring teachers; for the reduction of the pay to participate fees for high school athletics, elementary strings and the Golden Eagle Marching Band; and for increases in world language classes.

Susan LaFrance, a former Board of Education member, talked to what she sees as problems that need to be addressed, citing standardized test scores that show Trumbull at or near the bottom of the 21 systems in the town’s District Reference Group.

Former Board of Finance member Lainie McHugh expressed concern that in transferring the district’s employees’ health plans from the school's’ purview to the town’s, and then back onto the board for an estimated $1.4 million.

The prospective savings, which has been removed from the education budget, now leaves a hole in the budget, McHugh said.

Another speaker said she and her family chose Trumbull seven years ago for its schools, but was now “excited to leave,” and had seen three districts in Massachusetts with lower tax rates that “blow Trumbull away.”

She concluded “Trumbull has to wake up,” and that she is happy her company is buying her house.

Vicki Tesoro, chair of Trumbull Partnership Against Underage Drinking and Drugs (TPAUD), spoke to the need to add health teachers at Trumbull High School.

"As you know, the superintendent’s budget request includes a .45 Health teacher at THS," she told the board. "Students at Trumbull High presently receive only one marking period of health instruction during their entire high school career. That instruction is only during their freshman year. We know from survey data collected from THS students that involvement in risky behaviors such as underage drinking, marijuana and prescription drug use increases as students go through their high school years. We know that recent THS graduates have been involved in alcohol related car crashes. We know THS graduates have died from drug overdoses. We know that our students are under a tremendous amount of stress.

"TPAUD through parent and student outreach, education, and enforcement has had great success in changing the environment and we have seen our underage drinking rates in Trumbull drop dramatically in the last 10 years," she continued. "But our efforts cannot succeed in a vacuum. Our students need more health education. That is why I’m speaking tonight to advocate for the .45 position included in the superintendent’s budget. This additional position will provide some health education for our juniors. I would like to see this position increased form a .45 to a 1.0 full position. All students in both their junior and senior years should receive health education as they transition out of high school."

What about the leaves?

The lone speaker on another topic was Tony D’Aquila, who spoke about leaf pick up.

He called it a 20 year long issue, about which town leaders “are incapable of making a decision to improve.”

He noted that Trumbull spends $1 million, Fairfield, which has more houses than Trumbull, requires leaves to be bagged, uses a private contractor and pays $80,000.

“Is Trumbull interested in becoming more effective and efficient and in reducing property taxes?” he asked the board.

Check back in at Wednesday morning for an analysis of Tuesday night's budget meeting.