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Some Town Officials Stand Firmly Behind Budget

Municipal and education leaders discuss how to respond to the budget referendum defeat. The second referendum will be held on April 23.

A 4.25% mill rate increase sunk the $80.5 million town budget proposal in the first referendum vote on April 2, and now First Selectman Steve Vavrek is tasked with deciding what request to put out on April 23.

The second referendum will also have a ballot question on $3.8 million in bonding for the Honeywell projects to make town schools buildings more energy efficient. The Citizens Audit Committee petitioned it to the referendum claiming the funding was not included in the budget, while Vavrek says it is.

On Wednesday night, Vavrek held a joint meeting with the Town Council, Board of Education and Board of Finance at Masuk High School to gain input on the budget. Some residents also spoke at the event, which was televised live on Channel 17.

"April 23 is going to be a huge day in Monroe," Vavrek said of the two ballot questions.

Vavrek and Supt. of Schools James Agostine both expressed strong support of their budgets. Members of the town's boards joined them, though some suggested areas to cut in response to the last referendum defeat.

Agostine said the school district did not play the game of coming in with a high request to have something approved in the middle, adding any significant cut will hurt programs. Board of Education member Mark Antinozzi called it an "absolutely lean, bare bone, no blood budget."

Board of Finance Dir. Mark Reed said to significantly reduce the mill rate from say a 4.24 to a 2% increase, there would have to be a $1.5 million reduction.

"Read my lips: It would cause significant damage," Reed said.

What to Cut?

Town Council Vice Chairwoman Deborah Heim made a statement on behalf of the Republican majority, encouraging Vavrek to look at the "fully vetted" cuts the council had made during its workshop that the Board of Finance later restored.

"By restoring the cuts we made in our workshops, we think voters can pass a budget," she said.

Councilman Frank Lieto said the council made almost a half a million dollars worth of cuts and that the Board of Finance restored most of it, some for good reasons and some for other reasons.

But Reed said the finance board's revisions reduced the budget proposal by over $700,000 from the one it received, so he cautioned Vavrek to be careful when making any cuts.

Councilwoman Dee Dee Martin, a Democrat, read a statement as the minority leader on the council.

"We support fully, many aspects of this budget, public safety concerns, increases to fire safety and educational enhancements to cite a few," Martin said, "but we strongly feel that the voters have spoken and in our opinion a non-voter is a no vote, so reducations in the bottom line have to be made.

"We hope the first selectman will make every effort to keep key educational proponents intact, especially in regard to full time kindergarten ... we suggest the first selectman try to keep his revisions targeted to areas that in the past have received the greatest percentage increases within town hall."

An Officer in Every School

On the town side, Vavrek said funding for three school resource officers (SROs) and measures to improve security at Monroe's schools are big cost drivers that are "non-negotiable."

The first selectman showed past mill rate increases on a screen that were comparable to the 4.25% voters just defeated. He said the town has made infrastructure improvements with smaller increases over the last two years with maintenance of town roads and the police station building project among them.

Vavrek also spoke in favor of full-day kindergarten for the Board of Education's budget.

Strong Support for Education

Agostine said the Board of Education has held down costs through union negotiations and by being self insured. Capping the town's contribution to teachers' retiree health benefits will save over $6 million for future generations, he said. The superintendent said he believes an approval of the Honeywell contract will lead to more cost savings.

Even with flat budgets, Agostine said increases in rates for things like utilities and transportation continue to drive costs upward. He said the original budget proposal for Monroe Public Schools amounted to a 3.99% spending increase before working with the Board of Finance helped to bring it down to a 1.75% request.

Antinozzi said there are costs the school district has no control over. For instance, when an arbiter says teachers must get raises or the state mandates the Common Core Standards, it has to comply.

Full day kindergarten is seen an important component to meet the new standards.

Kelly Plunkett, a school board member, said a number of people are under the false impression that full day kindergarten is a convenience for parents who save on day care. And fellow board member, Dr. Alan Vaglivelo, has heard people say all the children do is spend the day coloring and drawing.

"It's not true anymore," he said, adding children are reading and writing on a first grade level, and when they reach the first grade they are expected to read at a second grade level.

Board of Education Chairman Darrell Trump ran off polling results showing parents support what the schools are doing. He said 84% supported the budget request, 91% the security initiatives, 95% thought it is important to maintain class sizes and 77% support having an SRO in every school.

Jeff Guttman, a school board member, said, "I wouldn't reduce the education budget at all, because we have what we need to make it work."

Jim beam April 11, 2013 at 08:30 PM
First of all, Bob, I'm not saying that Monroe educators "invented" full day kindergarten. I'm saying that they have a vested interest in it's implementation. It perpetuates the education bureaucracy by maintaining jobs and funding levels during a period of declining student enrollment. This seems a rather straightforward statement, easily understood. Sheila, the Common Core curriculum was devised by paid professionals in an attempt to replace previous curricula, which they also devised. These standards are arbitrary. Of course these paid professionals will defend these standards because they provide job security. Student enrollment is declining? No problem, change curricula. I reject the notion that 5 year olds "deprived" of three additional hours of kindergarten will be academically disadvantaged. If parents were not so willing to outsource the education of their children and fostered learning within the home as well without, then there should be no disadvantage whatsoever. I realize day care is expensive. However, I shouldn't have to subsidize it for your children.
Bob Loblaw April 11, 2013 at 08:40 PM
Jim beam you still don't get it... this is THE YEARS 2013-2014 MONROE BUDGET WE ARE TALKING ABOUT!!! The people on the BoE will make no money from full day K!!! As a matter of fact implementing it is only going to cost them money.
Schap April 11, 2013 at 08:42 PM
I was at the meeting and heard the statistics, but no one said how many responses there were on the survey. If the survey was so successful, why didn't these supporting parents show up to vote? Maybe we need to make voting in Monroe on-line so all these parents that support the survey which properly took 2 minutes can vote easily from their computers at work! Why not think outside the box and vote on a weekend.(Saturday) A survey about just voting would be more interesting to me town wide.
Jim beam April 11, 2013 at 08:46 PM
Bob: Again, I have no idea what you're talking about. The implementation of full day kindergarten is expected to cost an additional $193,000. It is costing money; to the taxpayer. Again, this is taxpayer subsidized day care.
QWERTY April 11, 2013 at 08:51 PM
By that logic, isn't every grade considered subsidized daycare? Full-day K probably was perpetuated by those stranding to benefit from it. However, every town around us IS or will soon be adopting it. What is the alternative?
Bob Loblaw April 11, 2013 at 08:55 PM
I won't say ALL but MOST of the over 30 school shooting incidents since Columbine have come to an end when the shooter was confronted by a Police Officer. The response time of 30 seconds as opposed to 3 minutes could save even just one life, it is worth it.
Jim beam April 11, 2013 at 08:59 PM
The alternative is the status quo. Perhaps parents can recommit themselves to providing a more conducive environment for learning within the home for their 5 year olds.
Amy Shelin Primorac April 11, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Children in full day kindergarten receive 40-50% more instruction than those in half day kindergarten programs. More instructional time in full day kindergarten allows for increased learning activities and strategies such as: group read aloud, peer tutoring, mixed ability grouping, and child initiated activities. Children in full day kindergarten spend 30% more time on reading and literacy instruction and 46% more time on mathematics than children in half day programs. Full day kindergarteners exhibit more independent learning, classroom involvement, productivity in work with peers and reflectiveness than half day kindergarteners. A study of 17,600 Philadelphia children found that full day kindergarten helps children from low income families perform better and saves the school district millions of dollars through significantly reduced grade retention in the first through third grades. Research from Lowell Elementary School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the average entering kindergartener was already 22 months below grade level, showed that children in the school’s half day kindergarten made an average gain of 5.4 months during a 9 month period, while children in the full day classes made a 16 month gain. Studies of Minneapolis Public Schools showed that minority children in full day kindergarten gained literacy skills at a faster pace than those in half day classes. http://www.strategiesforchildren.org/eea/6research_summaries/07_FDK_Factsheet.pdf
Bob Loblaw April 11, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Jim you seem to be hopeless... the members of the BoE will make no money from full day K. THEY ARE VOLUNTEERS! And as a matter of fact they will be paying for it just like you and I. How is that hard to understand? Like I said hopeless
Jim beam April 11, 2013 at 09:09 PM
Amy: You made my point for me. the full day kindergarten has an appreciable impact on at-risk students fro poorer families and communities, unlike the Monroe demographic. Parents would be better served attending to their children's learning needs in an educationally enriched home environment. I realize that day care is expensive and paying attention to your child is time consuming and demanding but please devote your energies to that and don't compel me to pay for three additional hours of your child's day care. Your child will be better off and your family will be better off for the time invested in your child.
Jim beam April 11, 2013 at 09:12 PM
The education professionals, those that are employed by our school system will be those whose job security is sustained. They have a vested interest in the continual development of curricula and programs that "necessitates" their continued employment. That is the educational bureaucracy of which I speak.
Alan Vaglivelo April 11, 2013 at 09:37 PM
All children benefit from full day kindergarten. 15 hours per week is a significant amount of instructional time. For example, I have seen children make significant gains in reading instruction with 4 hours per week of intensive support. Kindergarten is not homogeneous. 10% of students receive special education and 20% receive intensive support through the SRBI model. The 2014 common core standards that have been developed (which over 40 states have adopted) will require kindergarten students to read, dictate, and write to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book. Compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic. Dictate, and write to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.
Jim beam April 11, 2013 at 09:51 PM
Alan: Seriously, we're talking kindergarten, here. "Dictate, and write to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened." You can put whatever you want in a curriculum to justify your existence but please don't tell me that three additional hours of kindergarten is going to accomplish all this. There are 8th graders that are incapable of this. We have adults incapable of this. The Common Core curriculum can state that full day kindergarten will solve global warming and end world hunger but that doesn't make it so. I bet that 15 hours of additional parent attentiveness to providing an enriching learning environment for their children would have a greater impact on their child's academic success. And it would cost less money, too.
Bob Loblaw April 11, 2013 at 10:09 PM
Like I said hopeless!
Amy Shelin Primorac April 11, 2013 at 10:15 PM
Yes, we're talking about kindergarten here. It is a simple fact that addressing learning early and putting in the time when children are aged 3-6 will yield a lifetime of improved outcomes and results. This isn't made up, this is not subsidized daycare, this is early learning, which has proven its benefits through thousands of studies over every socioeconomic demographic, in every state and in other countries all over the world. More learning time = more learning, it is as simple as that. But if you don't care about more learning, let's talk about benefits to those not involved with the program. Early learning programs have been shown to yield benefits in academic achievement, behavior, educational progression and attainment, delinquency and crime, and labor market success, among other domains. This benefits everyone in the community. Well-designed early learning programs have been found to generate a return to society ranging from double to ten times each dollar spent on the program. In the long run, decreased need for services as children get older will be an economic benefit to every taxpayer in this town.
Christine E. April 11, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Theresa, What you are failing to recognize is that many of us purchased our homes in Monroe during what looked like the worst of times - but we were wrong. We weren't psychic. We had no idea the Mill would go up the way it has. Our home values have depreciated significantly since I purchased my home 3 years ago, but my taxes keep going up up up. People want to attract young couples who will bring children into the system - but make note: Many of us "young couples" want out. That isn't good for the future of Monroe.
Theresa O April 11, 2013 at 10:17 PM
Ok, so you thought that everything was going to be all better by now, and you were going to go back to the gold old days of spending 20 bucks to fill up your gas tank? Health care has done nothing but go up for decades, as have all of the other factors you mention. You cannot buy a home in a town in the hopes that someday soon costs will go down, and then I can really afford to live here. What you can expect is that if your costs are constantly rising, then so are the town's. Yes the economy has sucked, but my guess is that most new homeowners who have bought homes since the crash of our economy are not underwater at all, and most likely scored a very good deal by buying from the first few waves of foreclosures. Unemployment rates really having nothing to do with the availability of secondary jobs. The point of high unemployment rates is the difficulty for people to find comparable jobs to the ones they lost, not if they can go get a part-time job at Target. And I didn't tell him to go get a second job. I simply said that WE did, because that was our choice to be able to afford a lifestyle we wanted ie: living in a nice ffld county town. What less are you getting for your taxes? What exactly is it you are looking to get from them that you are not currently?
Jennifer Aguilar April 11, 2013 at 10:42 PM
actually the BOE HAD made reductions BEFORE the budget went to the public, willingly, giving the public the best budget, without anything hidden. Loosing things will hurt the entire town.
Jennifer Aguilar April 11, 2013 at 10:45 PM
We all work and pay the taxes too. We go to meetings when we can and get our information in more outlets other than The Patch's commentary. The BOE meeting are on channel 17 also if you need the info
Bob Loblaw April 11, 2013 at 10:50 PM
Last night everyone was "authorized to make recomendations"... that is the point of the public speeking part.
Theresa O April 11, 2013 at 10:54 PM
Christine, you are under the impression that I am not in the same exact boat that you are in. Actually, my boat is probably worse proportionally, because I bought my house in 2006, so how do you think my home valu is doing? You didn't think the mill rate would go up the way that it has? It hasn't gone up more than a full point since you purchased your home. I must own a much lower valued home than you, because that does not equate to a ridiculous amount, nor does it keep me from being able to afford the town I chose to raise a family in. I'm also going to take a guess and assume you think that I am older than I actually am, not that that is even relevant, other than to let you know that you are not talking to some ancient being that doesn't understand the plight of the youth today.
Jennifer Aguilar April 11, 2013 at 11:19 PM
thank you John Holmes. I was shocked to hear Amy being called out as "condescending" on this. She merely stated facts. There is a lot of talk on these comments on how people don;t have time because they are so busy to go to the meeting. Amy works, has 2 kids and a family and is a Parent Council co-president. I call that busy but she stays informed and keeps a great many of US informed. Thank you lady!
Jennifer Aguilar April 11, 2013 at 11:26 PM
@ Jim Beam, I have a third grader. To say they no longer color and play in kindergarten in absolutely true. Not 100% of the time, but a great majority. There is so much to learn and believe it or not, he was reading in kindergarten, doing all the things my 7th grader did in 1st grade. I thank the schools for all they do, they have a lot to do to keep up with all the standards that are put on them. But if they were not to do this, where would we as a country be, much more behind than we are now in education. Our children are our investments in the future, not to invest everything we can in them is just downright selfish. And if you want your house to be worth anything, and not just keep depreciating, we need to invest in education as well as our town. That is what taxes are, an investment right? The less we pay, the less we get in return....
QWERTY April 12, 2013 at 12:39 AM
Status quo, in this case, doesn't solve the problem. Monroe is essentially getting muscled into this by other towns. If the minority of towns had this program then I would totally agree with you, but that isn't the case here. So you need some sort of solution to at least rival what other towns are doing. Suggesting that parents make up that three hour difference, isn't a solution.
QWERTY April 12, 2013 at 12:41 AM
The gunman in Newtown committed suicide when he heard police approaching. No doubt a police presence would have deterred him.
Steve Kirsch April 12, 2013 at 05:22 AM
T.O., The cost is about $6,200 plus the cost of ballots, plus the labor costs of the registrars.
Rt25 April 12, 2013 at 11:49 AM
@Jennifer&John, Amy's text to Alex about attending meetings was condescending.
Bob Loblaw April 12, 2013 at 12:54 PM
@rt25 she also included about asking questions... that can be done via email, phone call, "social media", or even through an old fashioned letter. None of those things take hours of someones time, yet can save them from not being informed.
LittleTalks April 12, 2013 at 05:19 PM
O Theresa, no one is hoping costs will go down, they are just trying to prevent them from going up 4%. And I agree, if our costs are going up, we should assume the town's are too. But if our revenue isn't going up, why should the town assume their's should? And if we have had to cut back on things we want, or even need, to make ends meet, why shouldn't the town have to as well. We need to stop the "not investing in our schools" bs. Times are tight. I tell my kids just because Johnny or Samantha have this or that, doesn't mean we can afford it, and to strop trying to keep up with the Jones. But all I hear is that the next town over is better than ours. I want to give my kids the best of everything. That is not possible, so I do the best I can, and will be damned if folks like you are going to tell me I am not doing enough and that we should move to a cheaper town if we can't afford to be here. Fact is, you are the one that can't afford to live in the town you want to live in, so you are trying to make Monroe that town.
Rt25 April 12, 2013 at 07:17 PM
Steve, the $6,200 plus cost of ballots and registrars labor is for one referendum, correct? The next referendum which will include Honeywell will be that cost plus the cost for the additional ballots only, correct? You are not stating that because there are 2 questions, the entire referendum cost will double for that one day, are you?

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