Residents react to proposed budget at public hearing
By Christian Mysliwiec - Staff Writer
Manchester - posted Fri., Mar. 15, 2013
Most seats were taken and latecomers stood in the back in the Waddell School gymnasium, where the Board of Directors heard comments and concerns from residents during a public hearing on the FY 2013/14 Recommended Budget, held Thursday, March 14.
The general fund budget is $169,388,904, representing a 2.4-percent increase. General Manager Scott Shanley explained that due to Gov. Dannel Malloy's state budget, the general budget will receive $1.8 million less in state aid. However, much of this loss will be redirected to focused uses, such as the Capital Grant and the Alliance Grant, which goes directly to the Board of Education for new programs.
“[The governor] has said that the amount of money that goes to the local government is the same in the proposed year as the year that we're in. And he's correct,” said Shanley. “But what's important to recognize, and what the Board of Directors have to deal with, is he has taken money that was used by the Board of Directors at their discretion, and put it directly to education, and it's an Alliance Grant, which means that it cannot be used to support ongoing, traditional education programs in the school. It has to be new and innovative.”
Because of this, the Board of Directors have to come up with $1.8 million – either through property taxes or budget cuts - simply to reach “zero” and begin budgeting for normal line items.
The public comments were kicked off by Manchester High School sophomore Kaitlyn Maloney, who opposed proposed cuts to public education programs, especially to the fourth- and fifth-grade band and orchestra, the French program, and athletic programs. “This is not the equivalent of building character. Instead, it's taking away from the opportunities to cultivate it,” she said.
Maloney's strongest complaint was with cuts to the gifted and talented program. “This is a competitive world,” she said. “Now we no longer compete with kids in the next town or the next state, but with kids in Hong Kong, in Finland, in Thailand, all over the world. My question is how Manchester expects to remain competitive, if we are not supporting the best and brightest to maintain competitiveness.”
Steven Wood has been a resident of Manchester for 25 years. “What drove my wife and I from West Hartford is the string program,” he said. Wood said the fourth- and fifth-grade band and orchestra cuts will result in the “destruction of the ensemble program.” These are formative years in the musical development of students, and if they do not receive proper music training at this time, they will lag behind in high school, he explained. “Manchester High School has one of the finest music programs in the country,” he said. “These cuts to fourth- and fifth-grade band and orchestra is going to cripple the ensemble program, which has been built over a 25-year and longer period.”
Michelle Gara Grady said the state of Manchester is “deplorable,” and said she was dismayed after hearing of the cuts the Board of Education will have to implement due to the budget. “I implore you to do whatever is necessary within the town's budget before leaving the Board of Ed. with an insufficient budget to meet its basic needs,” she said. She cited some of those needs: compensating teachers competitively and fairly, closing the achievement gap and providing for enrichment programs like fourth- and fifth-grade band and orchestra, as well as the gifted and talented program.