Push to restore education funding falls short in budget vote

A push by both Republicans and Democrats on Trumbull’s Town Council to restore $697,500 to the Board of Education’s budget proposal fell short Tuesday night, failing to get enough votes.

The Town Council voted Tuesday to approve a town budget of $156.78 million, representing a 2.97% increase over the current year.

Trumbull’s school budget proposal did get a smaller boost of $135,000, making the total 2014-15 school budget $94.99 million, compared to the current fiscal year budget of $92.96 million. The addition was proposed by District 2 Republican Cindy Penkoff, who said she hoped the money would be used to hire a technology specialist and a social worker at the high school.

The $135,000 education boost wasn’t enough for some on the Council, and members of the public in attendance, who were pushing for a full restoration of the $697,500 that the Board of Finance reduced from First Selectman Timothy Herbst’s recommended budget.

District 2 Republican Edna Colucci made the initial motion to restore the $697,500.

Colucci said the increase, as explained by Superintendent Gary Cialfi, would fund new sections of Algebra 2 and 3, as well as add a theater class, ceramics, drawing and painting at the high school. It would also cover a social worker and technology specialist at the high school.

“By adding these funds I expect the superintendent to stand by his proposal as presented,” Colucci said. “And I want to thank parents for contacting us, and speaking at meetings, to share their concerns.”

District 3 Democrat Vicki Tesoro supported Colucci’s motion, saying that an online petition to restore the $697,500 collected more than 700 signatures.

“These are curriculum items, mandated positions and mental health needs,” Tesoro said of what the money would fund. “We’re not asking to put anything here for the future, we want to at least keep our services current.”

Colucci’s motion received 8 votes in favor, but failed. District 3 Republican Michael London was one of the Council members against adding back the money.

“I am in favor of adding these positions but not these monies,” London said. “The money is, frankly, already there. We were notified by the superintendent that due to significant reduction in student population of 100 kids, we will be eliminating nine teachers.”

London also argued the schools have a significant surplus each year and he has watched the Board of Education’s budget increase each year.

“We have to have some pity on the poor taxpayer,” London said.

Tesoro argued the superintendent had already accounted for reduced staff, due to enrollment, in his proposal.

“There are two sides to every story — the town has a surplus every year,” Tesoro said. “How many students have we added in the last 10 years? I hope we continue to add to the school population — I want people to move here because of the great school system.”

After the motion to add back the money failed, London made a motion to reduce an additional $500,000 from the proposal, much to the indignation of members of the public who attended. The motion failed.

Colucci later supported Penkoff’s motion to add back $135,000.

“I prefer the number I asked for but I want to see an increase here,” she said.

Town and police

Before the final budget passed, Tesoro made a motion to restore funding reduced from the police department proposal of $148,000. The money reduced from the police budget because Board of Finance members wanted to see the department hire new officers, rather than promote officers to new positions.

“I want people to remain and grow in the department,” District 1 Democrat Daniel Marconi said in support of Tesoro’s motion. “If there was no growth, I question why I would stay.”

The motion failed, as did Tesoro’s next motion to restore $200,000 for a new program to hire retired police officers as school security guards, as proposed by First Selectman Herbst.

During deliberations, the Council approved some minor reductions to clerical staff and overtime pay for one salaried employee in the Parks Department.

One of the only changes that all Town Council members agreed upon was adding back $5,000 for a town study of potential safety improvements of the Rails to Trails crossing at Route 111.