Residents give budget ‘thumbs-up’
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
GLASTONBURY - posted Fri., Jan. 28, 2011
GLASTONBURY- It would seem that the residents of Glastonbury, although not entirely complacent with the proposed budget for 2011-2012, are generally in agreement with the spending plan as it stands currently.
At the Annual Town Meeting last week, a show of hands saw many were in support of the budget – a total of 1.8 percent, or $2.44 million over the current year – and when asked for another show of hands to signify disapproval of the budget, not one audience member’s hand went up.
The proposed mill rate would increase from 29.65 to 30.25 –resulting in a 2.02 percent tax increase.
Town Council Chair Susan Karp said that although the state budget won’t be known for months, the town is preparing for decreases in funding in several revenue accounts.
“Out town has been successful for so long, because of our careful, inclusive approach to our decisions,” she said.
Town Manager Richard Johnson said the town operations portion of the budget was affected by wage increases, pensions, fuel and utilities, capital outlay and other increases. Health insurance is expected to decrease by .32 percent, largely due to savings seen by the town’s switch to self-insurance.
Johnson called the town budget increase of 1.65 percent “well thought-out and well-supported.”
The Board of Education had cut $1.1 million from Superintendent Alan Bookman’s proposed budget, but left the proposed addition of 16 teaching positions in its approved budget of $89.1 million.
Bookman said class sizes had become an issue in town, after last year’s budget necessitated the cutting of approximately 20 teachers. He provided data which showed that the teacher-to-pupil ratios were mid-range to above BOE guidelines in 26 percent of elementary classrooms, 66 percent at Gideon Wells, 50 percent at Smith Middle School, and 39 percent at GHS.
Three residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. All three said they approved of restoring the teaching positions, and urged the Town Council to adopt the budget, as is.
Heather Summers, whose daughter is a high school junior, said she came to advocate for the addition of five teachers at GHS. She said the increase in student population and the addition of only one teacher at the school in the past three years has resulted in overcrowded classrooms, as well as other problems.
“It has also created some problems in the areas of the inability for some of our students to get into the classes they would like to,” Summers said. “Or, when they find themselves in the situation where a class is not right for them, it is difficult for them to make the switch. We are also seeing students being put in study halls or free periods.”
Summers added that the small class sizes that were enjoyed by students when they were in elementary school are opportunities that should not slip by them at the high school level.
“These are the final years of their educational experience here in Glastonbury,” she said. “They are their most vital years.”
Resident Tracy Furey, president of the PTO at Nayaug Elementary, said she wanted the town officials to “undo the damage that was done” when the teaching positions were eliminated last year.
“The Board of Education is proposing adding two fifth-grade classes next year,” Furey said, speaking specifically of Nayaug. “My middle daughter is in fourth grade, in one of five classes, so it makes sense that we need to add that one additional class to break even. We [also] need one more added, to get us up to the 20 to 22 [student] class size.”
Joshua Steffenson, president of the Glastonbury Education Association, said that on behalf of the town’s teachers, he supports the spending plan, adding that the Board of Education and Town Council members have had to make “difficult decisions...as we face economic circumstances unlike those most of us have ever seen.”
“The decisions we’ve all had to make have forced us to evaluate our personal and communal values,” Steffenson said, “and more so than ever before, determine the priorities that we have.”
Steffenson said the teachers are extremely thankful for the support of education by the community.