Council divided over education budget
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Mar. 7, 2013
It seems another “healthy debate” on the town budget is beginning. After hearing from several residents who wanted the Board of Finance-recommended cut of $800,000 from the Board of Education budget reinstated, the Town Council voted 5-3 to send the sum of $93.9 million, cuts intact, to the town meeting on March 26, as part of a $145.1 million total town spending plan for 2013-2014.
As the resolutions were read, Councilwoman Jill Barry, one of three Democrats on the council, strongly opposed sending the lower number to the town meeting, at which final council action is anticipated.
“Why are we pushing forth the Board of Finance recommended number,” she asked, adding that while town departments and officials have weighed in on the budget numbers, the residents have had a smaller voice since the budget process started in November.
“This budget affects the residents,” she said. “We need to hear from them.”
Council chair Chip Beckett said resident input is certainly welcomed. “We do want to hear from people,” Beckett said. “We've been getting a steady stream of e-mails and letters from a variety of people for the last month, which the council members all have.”
Barry had proposed an amendment, including the $800,000, but that was defeated along party lines.
Whit Osgood, a Republican, added that the public hearing is designed so that the council hears input before making a decision, but also defended the cut, because the education budget would still be an increase over last year.
“The teachers' salary increase in the school budget is 2.8 percent,” Osgood said, “so the 3.7-percent increase that is currently on the floor is greater than the board of education-proposed increase in the teachers' salary budget. So, I'm comfortable going to the public hearing with the 3.7-percent increase.”
“I am not comfortable,” Barry said. “What is the justification for going with the Board of Finance number? We've never discussed, as a council, reducing that number. I think it's unfair, and I think it's wrong.”
Democrat Tom Gullotta tried to clarify Barry's concerns. “It would seem that the majority of the council, by wanting to move the board of finance's numbers forward, are perhaps hinting at what they are going to be doing at the next meeting,” Gullotta said, “and perhaps doing what we did, in terms of trying to move the original numbers forward, I guess that's also a signal. Maybe what we have is a forecast of what the next meeting is going to result in.”
“A couple of people have written to me saying everybody's [council members] minds are made up and they don't care what the public says,” Beckett said. “That is categorically incorrect. I think we listen to what everybody says from all letters and all comments. We may or may not agree with you, but we listen very intently to what everybody says.”