22 Aug 2014
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Vernon's Budgetary Lines Drawn in the Sand

The mayor has dictated a reduction to the school budget, but two Board of Education members are standing their ground.

Vernon's Budgetary Lines Drawn in the Sand Vernon's Budgetary Lines Drawn in the Sand Vernon's Budgetary Lines Drawn in the Sand

Mayor George Apel has sent a letter to Superintendent of Schools Mary Conway and Board of Education Chairman Dean Houle indicating they should be prepared to reduce the school board budget request by $1.5 million.

That would leave the increase for the 2013-14 fiscal year at $1,988,790.

The letter was dated Monday. On Friday, the $51,669,787 budget request was delivered to Town Hall. It reflects a funding increase of $3,488,790 - or 7.24 percent - over this year's $48,180,997 spending plan.

The cut by Apel, a former Republican school board member himself, amounts to more than three percentage points off the increase.

Apel attended several school board budget sessions.

"Even with a zero percent increase in spending on the general government side and no decrease in revenue, the BOE budget would result in an overall townwide spending increase of 2.4 percent," Apel wrote.

Two school board members - Republican Chairman Dean Houle and Democratic board treasurer Kyle Percy - did not take the letter lightly.

"The consensus of the board (six of eight voting members endorsed the budget plan and Houle is supporting it) is that this is what we need to move this town ahead," said Houle in a reference to the governor placing Vernon in the bottom 30 performing districts statewide.

Percy said he sent the mayor an e-mail message questioning the cut.

"I'm very angry," he said. "I almost feel like what's the point of having a board of education. We send the budget to you and you cut and cut and cut."

Percy said in the past four years, the school system budget was reduced from the previous fiscal year. The other three years, the increases were 1.51 percent and 3.76 percent and .3, the latter in a year ravaged by health care increases. 

Percy grew up in Vernon and he and his wife attended public schools in town. They are booth 1995 graduates of Rockville High School. He said his daughter starting the sixth grade at Vernon Center Middle School this year was "scary" but so far she has excelled both academically and socially. He said he is torn between his belief that the school system is good now versus a passion to drive it out of the bottom 30 classification.

"This is where we need to improve," Percy said. "Two-thirds of the board members - Democrats and Republicans - voted to send this to the mayor. I am happy with the school system but we have to get out of the state's bottom 30. If not, our property values will go down."

Houle said the $1.9 million increase after Apel's cut "does not even cover contractual obligations."

He also said that all-day kindergarten, a key component to the state's new common core curriculum, would be off the table. Implementation systemwide costs $492,408.

"I am a pretty conservative guy, but we've done everything in our power to make the school system better with this budget," he said. "We're trying to fund public education and the mayor is not giving residents a chance to fund public education."

Magnet school tuition has increased by $200,000 to more than $600,000 in the budget proposal because more and more students are choosing those schools.

"We have to improve, but I think his honor - our mayor - had 4 percent number in his head before we submitted out budget."

Percy said any additional state aid is accounted for. Part of the application process for Alliance District additional aid was to document how each dollar is spent.

Apel is also a Vernon native. He said the town could lose about $1 million in state funding and $5 million if a plan to eliminate taxes on certain motor vehicles is pursued.

He has asked for an outline of how the school board would implement the cuts to use as a guide when the Town Council starts its budget deliberations the third week in March.

Percy and Houle said pubic opinion could also be an outline.

"I'm showing up to the hearings with bells," Percy said. "It's starting to scare me with how much the mayor has cut out. It's not like we're ahead of the game. One and a half million dollars will be detrimental to the school system. The reality is there is no extra in this budget."

Houle said, "Just because we did get the cut doesn't mean it's the end of the road. Yes, historically, money does not get added, but if the parents really want more for their schools there is a possibility - a slim one - that things could change."

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