Griswold town budget hearing draws advocates for library, full-day kindergarten
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Tue., Apr. 9, 2013
Despite a capacity crowd, it took just an hour for the Griswold Board of Finance to get the message loud and clear – restore funding for the Slater Library in Griswold’s 2013-14 town budget. The board’s annual budget public hearing April 2 drew a number of speakers, most of whom advocated for full funding for the library, which one speaker likened to a de facto community center. The library “is a need, not a want,” said Bill Czmyr.
Griswold First Selectman Philip Anthony told the assembly at the start of the meeting that although a proposed cut of $20,000 to library funding was written into the current proposed spending plan, his poll of the selectmen indicated that they would support restoration of the funding. “No one, not any of my colleagues has said a bad word about the library,” he said. “There’s no question it’s an asset to the town.”
“It’s a cohesive element in our community that we so desperately need,” said Joy Smith. She called insufficient funding of the library “absolutely shameful. All research shows that the more we invest in our youngest readers, the return on the investment is enormous.” She also urged the board to retain a school budget line item for full-day kindergarten at Griswold Elementary School.
The current $32,320,951 combined budget proposal represents an overall increase of 3.41 percent, of which 1.95 percent is the increase in education funding and .50 percent represents the town’s debt service. Finance Board Chairman Steven Merchant, Sr., said that the spending plan will go to town meeting on May 6 and from there will most likely be sent to referendum, as it has in previous years.
The $100,000 line item for full-day kindergarten in the proposed $25,148,850 education budget also had numerous advocates. Amy Demmico said that half-day kindergarten puts the town’s youngsters at a disadvantage in comparison to other towns. Because the half-day sessions are so crammed with academic work to prepare them for first grade, the children do not have a chance to engage in full-motor physical activity at school. “Our students…just get to see the playground out the window,” she said.
Griswold High School music teacher Ray Churchill said that 80 percent of towns in the state have all-day kindergarten, and that the Connecticut Mastery Tests are based on the assumption that students have experienced a full day of school from kindergarten through third grade. With half-day kindergarten, youngsters who take the CMT in third grade “are behind the eight-ball already.”
Churchill also urged the board to retain a proposed half-time music position at the middle school level. “The music program is limping,” he said. Students with musical talent who might otherwise stay in the Griswold school system are choosing other high schools and taking their tuition fees with them, he said. The overall education budget proposal “has been whittled down to bare bones. There’s no fluff in that budget,” he said.
Fred Maerkle said that music and the arts stimulate creative thinking in other academic areas. His two sons greatly benefitted from the Griswold school system’s music program, he said. “I’d be willing to bite the bullet in order to support future generations in this town,” he said.
Lauren Anthony, another parent, said that her son’s exposure to music in the Griswold schools led him to earn a bachelor’s degree in music. Her daughter began studying the violin in fourth grade. “Now there is no strings program before ninth grade,” she said. “Music might seem disposable to adults, but not to teenagers. Let’s try to rebuild what the kids have lost.”
Ed Berdick said that he supported the budget as it stands, but urged the finance board to make changes if it is rejected at referendum. “There [are] people in this community who can afford a 20 percent raise in taxes but there are some people who can’t,” he said.